The Rotary Job Fair

Scarce skills are the bane of the private sector’s existence. Not that there is any shortage of unemployed persons in Guyana. In the private sector at least a sizeable and continually growing number of entities are competing for the same skills.

Bringing employers and job-seekers together in a structured setting has not been a preoccupation of either government or the private sector. Business enterprises have responded to the challenge of scarce skills by initiating in-service training programmes and by funding training programmes for employees at the University of Guyana and the various other tertiary institutions. Other initiatives have come from institutions like the University of the West Indies’ Arthur Lok Jack School of Business and locally-based Nations University. Both have secured niches in the local training market, offering MBA programmes and other courses to which several private sector entities subscribe.

About two years ago the idea of a collaborative initiative between the University of Guyana and the private sector to help respond to the skills needs of the business community was mooted. It envisaged the business community providing various forms of support for UG in exchange for some of UG’s courses becoming more responsive to the skills needs of the private sector. Since then UG has had its hands so filled with challenges that have to do with its very existence that the future of the initiative – at least in the short term – is  unclear.

Last Saturday’s Job Fair organized by the Rotary Clubs of Demerara and Georgetown may not have been a panacea for remedying the problems of scarce skills and high unemployment though it may well have set a worthwhile precedent for a continuous initiative that might, over time, make an important contribution to alleviating the problems of scarce skills and high unemployment. The small number of job-seekers who found their way to the Fair may have been the result of what the organizers say was a limited publicity initiative that neglected to target directly institutions like UG, the Government Technical Institute, the various Information Technology Colleges and the fifth and sixth formers. These institutions may well have been better-positioned to facilitate the kind of talent-scouting that the dozen or so private sector entities represented at the Job Fair might have wanted to do. Indeed, the representative of one of the business houses told this newspaper that his company had gone to the event hoping to identify and engage seemingly promising university students with a view to possible commitments to recruitment after graduation.

But for the fair, of course, the prospects of job offers ahead of graduation would not have arisen and the Job Fair was worthwhile if only for the reason that it generated ideas that can be applied at future similar events. Indeed, the outcomes provided good reason for Job Fairs to be repeated at fairly regular intervals across the country with the Ministry of Labour and the various private sector umbrella bodies throwing in their lot with the Rotarians in the future.

If all of the skills needs of the private sector are unlikely to be found at Job Fairs, bringing together employers and prospective employees can at least help to reduce unemployment in other areas. Last Saturday, for example, at least one Security Guard Service was represented at the event. Little if any recruiting was done, however. It appears that few if any persons willing to be recruited as Guards were aware of the Job Fair. Government and private sector backing can play an important role in marketing events of this nature.

For the unemployed persons who showed up last Saturday, the Job Fair would have helped them to better understand the complexities of the local job market. They would have learnt from their engagements with the representatives of business houses that there is much wisdom in academic pursuits that can readily translate into marketable skills. As one representative of a private sector entity remarked “there is need for a regime of career guidance in Guyana that points students in the direction of qualifications that are readily marketable.” They would also have benefitted from coaching in matters to do with job-hunting like structuring curriculum vitae, writing applications and preparing for interviews.

Those private sector entities represented at the Job Fair would have harboured no illusions that their human resource headaches would have been over by the end of the exercise. Manufacturing and industrial enterprises are not only in need of managers but are also short of engineers, technicians and heavy-duty machinery operators. Those skills are now in increasing demand in the gold-mining sector where the pay is considerably better than what the coastal private sector offers.

Skills losses have also resulted from migration to other Caribbean territories and further afield. Guysuco particularly has suffered from loss of skills associated with overseas scholarship awardees securing jobs outside of Guyana upon completion of their training to say nothing of the lost investment in their training.

The presence at the Job Fair of the Guyana Youth Business Trust (GYBT) the youth arm of the Institute for Private Enterprise Development (IPED) provided an interesting variation to the main thrust of the forum. GYBT is seeking to offer young job-seekers an opportunity to start their own businesses offering, as of last November, loans of up to $800,000 to help finance worthwhile business proposals along with mentoring programmes that seek to provide a measure of insurance against failure at the start-up phase.

On the whole it was a more than worthwhile initiative. If not too many job-seekers would have left the Fair without promises of short-term job prospects, they would have gleaned some more than useful insights on how to prepare themselves for the job market. Next time around – hopefully sooner rather than later the event should be a collaborative one with more resources deployed by both the state and the private sector to ensure that at least some of the needs of both employers and job-seekers are met.

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