The Skeldon Sugar Factory and the flight of skills

Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud’s disclosure that the skills that are necessary to run the Skeldon Sugar Factory properly simply do not exist within the company or, for that matter, within the country is probably not all that surprising when one considers that despite the much-touted view that the skills base with the sugar industry is sufficiently adequate, the performance of the industry, particularly its field performance, has been, in large measure, a function of the continuous flow of skilled managers out of GuySuCo.

These losses have mainly been the result of migration to North America and the company has conceded that the rate of resignations and migration has undermined the company’s succession plans.

GuySuCo has made another interesting concession and that is the rapid loss of skills from the industry has given rise to a situation in which people are promoted to positions before they are actually ready to serve in those positions, which is just another way of saying that there may well be some level of incompetence in key positions within the industry.

This is what GuySuCo has had to say about the state of play within the sugar industry as far as the loss of skills is concerned. “The rate of losses has left the corporation depleted of key skills, with very few choices for replacements and promotions and this has chiefly been in the areas of agriculture and factory. As a consequence it was found that the corporation has suffered from poor decision-making in the fields and the factories through lack of experience and a general decline in the quality of management.”

These disclosures were made in an official GuySuCo document and there is certainly nothing ambiguous about the pronouncement. More than that, it does not appear that the pronouncement was intended to take account of the Skeldon facility for if the skills did not exist prior to the Skeldon situation it is, to say the least, unlikely, that they would exist now.

GuySuCo, it appears, has not been able to do much to stem the outward flow of its managers. The company says it has invested “significant resources” in training executive and senior staff over the years with the available records indicating that more than 800 persons were trained between 1990 and 2005 thorough various means including overseas courses, in-house training, the University of Guyana and the recruitment of an overseas-based consultant. It appears the many of the managers who benefited from these programmes—persons who occupied key field and factory positions—simply left despite the use of bonding as a means of retaining the skills which of course only buys the corporation up to five years.

There are various reasons why GuySuCo has failed to hold on to many of its key personnel over protracted periods of time. Some, though not all of those reasons, have to do with the company’s failure to compete with the salaries that are being offered by elsewhere in the global sugar industry and in other fields. Additionally, GuySuCo has also admitted that it has been largely unsuccessful in recruiting skilled labour from abroad again for the reason that the lack of profitability of the industry means that it cannot afford to pay attractive wages.

So that long before Minister Persaud had said that we do not possess the skills to run Skeldon, it was really an open secret. Skeldon, however, is a multi-million dollar reality which cannot be wished away and what we really need to decide is what do we do now.

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