Our labour conundrum
The region and CXC are still wrestling with the results of the last CSEC exam results. Ultimately, these concerns centre on our (in) ability to produce qualified professionals in the core vocations that determine the success or failure of countries in our globalised world. In most of the more developed countries, their worry is that they are not producing enough graduates in the STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The gap between our handwringing over graduates at the high school level and that of other countries over college graduates in those specific fields, suggests the road has not yet been taken by the Caribbean in general and Guyana in particular. We do not even offer an engineering degree at UG – and more than half of our applicants enter the faculties of humanities and social sciences. At the high school level, the less than 25% of our students that matriculated with five subjects including Mathematics and English, were dominated by the new ‘popular’ ‘business’ subjects.
If we are ever to become an ‘emerging economy’ we will have to simultaneously work in the high schools to improve their profiles in the Science and IT areas and retool UG to accommodate the new graduates into the STEM areas. However, we have to be aware that unless we have immediate employment for these new professionals, we will simply be exporting them to develop other economies. We all know (or should know) that even as we bemoan the poor facilities at UG, almost 90% of its graduates end up emigrating. This is our labour conundrum: how will we ever develop if we cannot retain our trained manpower?
Human capital has replaced financial capital as the engine of economic prosperity, according to Hans-Paul Bürkner, CEO of industry leader, Boston Consulting Group. The roots of the global talent hunt include the widely uneven quality of educational systems, erratic employability of the workers in the Southern Hemisphere and demographic changes in the Northern Hemisphere, where retirement of the baby boomers will result with an unprecedented talent deficit. In the United States, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom, expected immigration and birth rates will not offset the workforce losses caused by aging populations.
Up to this point, most of our graduates have ended up in the US and Canada, but recent developments in the global economy indicate that while these two economies will still be magnets for our graduates, other magnets – perhaps more powerful ones, are in the making. Only last week there were reports in the local media that the government of next door Brazil, now the sixth largest economy will be taking pro-active steps to attract newly qualified professionals.
Brazil’s government is exploring ways to ease immigration rules in order to attract up to ten times more foreign professionals and help spur economic growth, a senior official told Reuters.
A lack of skilled workers is one of many bottlenecks that have lately brought the Brazilian economy to a near standstill. From construction sites to oil rigs and technology operations, companies are struggling to find qualified workers to ramp up their operations in Brazil. Internet giant Google, for instance, currently has thirty-nine open positions in Brazil. It would be rather ironic that while it is predicted our ongoing census will show a large number of Brazilians within our borders, these generally unskilled workers may be offset by professional Guyanese migrating to Brazil in the near future.
Last year, the World Economic Forum issued a report, Global Talent Risk, which concluded that global demand will be biggest for highly educated professionals, technicians and managers. Professionals will be in particularly high demand in trade, transport and communications industries in developing nations. In response, governments in both origin and destination economies are devising policies, independently, bilaterally and multilaterally, that respond to this shifting global demand for labour.
If we are not to become simply a supplier of professionals to developed and developing economies, and only tout the ‘benefits’ of remittances as our development stagnates, we also must devise a policy response.