LEWIS: Gaston Browne’s Claimed Shortage of Skilled Construction Workers is an Admission of Failure

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

Gaston Browne’s Claimed Shortage of Skilled Construction Workers is an Admission of Failure

Gaston Browne has repeatedly claimed that there is a shortage of skilled construction workers on the island. These claims started back in 2018, when the UPP-attracted investor, Sunwing, upgraded the Royal Antiguan hotel into the new Royalton. Later, during Sunwing’s conversion of the defunct Halcyon Hotel into the Royalton Chic, the same claims were made.

Despite claims of a construction boom and an economic boom, our people still suffered through record unemployment and underemployment.

Given the deliberate absence of timely and reliable employment data, nothing the Prime Minister says can be taken at face value. However, if Gaston Browne’s claimed shortage of skilled construction workers is true, it is an admission of major failure.

The Prime Minister therefore needs to answer several questions on this failure:

1. Why has his government failed to advance the National Training Agency (NTA) in order to get more skilled workers certified through ABICE, while announcing dozens of projects over the last 10 years?

2. Why has his administration failed to inspire and facilitate more of our unemployed youth on their journeys towards receiving their Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQs), and joining the construction workforce?

3. Why are there so many construction workers who continue to be unemployed, or grossly underpaid, despite his claims of a construction boom? And what has been done to ensure they are able to secure employment on whatever projects are available?

4. What is driving his obsession with importing workers from outside of the Caribbean? Is he planning to flood the country with cheap labour, and reduce the pay of local and Caribbean construction workers?

The NTA has been hampered in its Vision to establish an Antiguan & Barbudan workforce that is certified, competent, productive, enterprising and innovative, contributing to social and economic development.

It has been frustrated in its Mission to develop a qualified workforce that supports industry and national development through a system of competency-based education and training which is universally recognised.

The lack of funding threatens to undermine the NTA and render it useless. It is therefore prudent that it be given line item status in the national budget, and its finances supplemented by the Board of Education.

There is an opportunity to advance ABICE to a true higher education facility by adopting a model similar to that of the Human Employment and Resource Training/National Service Training Agency (HEART-NSTA) Trust in Jamaica, where skilled workers particularly are trained and certified. 

Further, given the Prime Minister’s boasts about underpaying National Housing workers by 40%, construction workers are rightly concerned about his plans to import labour from outside the region.

A serious government and a serious Prime Minister would have put measures in place over the last 10 years, to address the medium to long-term training needs of the construction sector. Instead, Gaston Browne complains about the same problems year after year, without delivering meaningful solutions.

Richard S. Lewis MP

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