(CNS): The Chamber of Commerce president has said that its members remain concerned about the skills gap in the local working population and the failure of the education system to deliver the employees needed by local businesses. Kyle Broadhurst, a local attorney who stepped into the top role at the business advocacy group’s AGM this week, said education would be a “vital focus” of his term as president. He said focus groups held in 2016 pointed to the problems Chamber members still face finding suitable local talent because of this skills gap.
Broadhurst pulled no punches but followed the well-worn rhetoric from the business community that education standards in the government schools are poor and that is why they can’t find the talent they need.
“We receive numerous reports that the schools are not currently educating children for all future possibilities, meaning that many leave school without the necessary skills or drive for certain, common job roles. This is unacceptable,” he told the audience at the annual general meeting Wednesday.
He said the Chamber members were relying “heavily on foreign labour”, but as the work permit process was difficult and expensive, he believed business owners want to hire Caymanians. However, the education standards were not up to scratch.
“In a country which cannot possibly provide enough labour to meet the demands of its economy, it is imperative that we do as much as we can to ensure that every willing Caymanian is given every opportunity to succeed here at home,” the new president said. “This starts with making sure that our education and training… is both robust and comprehensive.”
Broadhurst pointed to the high GDP in Cayman and a relatively small population, stating that it should be able to become a global leader in quality education. “We are not there yet,” he said, adding that for the economy to grow there needed to be more emphasis on better education.
The public education system was a matter for everyone, whether their kids were in private schools or even if they did not have children, Broadhurst suggested. “In the absence of a strong education system, we will see greater dependence upon the social network, which costs us all. Worse still, we may potentially see higher crime rates. It is accordingly an issue that impacts all of us,” he said, before admitting that he was not an education expert.
He said that changes take considerable time and it isn’t possible for any government to bring about the change needed in one term.
“We have seen several changes in government in the last few election cycles and I firmly believe that unless we, as a community, make this a priority issue we will not see any meaningful improvement,” he stated, implying that none of the last series of education ministers have got it right.
“It is simply not possible to see any real change if whatever course we plot is altered before it bears fruit,” Broadhurst said. “Although ministers may change, we must have a firm focus on the relevant issues.”
The president told the audience that the Chamber will be making education a priority and will hold more focus groups to gain insight from the members, hold a BE INFORMED session with the education ministry and tour the schools before inviting members and community leaders to enter an open discussion on the matter. He also said that when the Chamber begins its Candidates Forums ahead of the election, education will be a topic put to the candidates.
Broadhust said he wanted to see the subject of education become one of pride in Cayman as opposed to concern.
In the Poll: Which issues are the most critical? on the CNS Election Section, participants so far have voted Education the number one priority for the next government.