As May morphs into June, thousands of students are preparing for their Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and Cambridge exams. That can only mean one thing: the majority of these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed hopefuls are soon going to have their spirits crushed and dreams all but fade as they join the consistently growing unemployment line.
With the jobless rate at an all time high, the promises proffered during the Prime Minister’s budget address this week must have seemed heaven sent; manna to even the most disillusioned and dubious Israelite.
And what is this new carrot being dangled in front of the babies? A Cruise Sector Training and Employment Programme.
I’ll let Kenny Anthony give you the rundown.
“Through NICE, the Government of Saint Lucia launched a pilot programme valued at $0.4 million during the past fiscal period to assist unemployed youth between the ages 19 and 35 years to access this employment. Unlike other similar initiatives in the past, this pilot programme has been carefully designed in conjunction with a training institution, a cruise line and the Saint Lucia Development Bank.
“The programme is specifically targeted for non-utility job opportunities within the cruise sector. With these types of jobs, Mr Speaker, successful candidates can earn as much as, and in some cases, in excess of US$3,000 per month.”
What?!? 3,000 dollars a month? USD? Sounds too good to be true, no?
In his address, Anthony spoke of the prior government’s ‘high level of delinquency in servicing education and training loans in the past’ and touted their hard-nosed approach to recouping the investment, allowing for others to benefit from this bounty. According to the PM, “The cruise line partner is extremely satisfied with the quality of the Saint Lucian employees offered through this programme, and is eager to continue to work with us to expand the job offers to 360-500 positions per year.”
Wonderful! Except maybe someone should have informed the programme partner, Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, of their, um, extreme satisfaction.
Organization head, Michele M. Paige, was stunned by news of the announcement.
“I don’t know what they’re referencing because we have not had any interaction with them on this for, goodness gracious, for years!”
Uh oh. Sounds like someone else has been a tad ‘delinquent.’
Paige says that talks have been stagnant since the initial interaction and agreement with the former administration, United Workers Party.
“It’s a very important avenue and still remains something that the cruise industry would be willing to work on with the government of Saint Lucia. It is not something that has been continued to be dialogued and none of the lines have continued with the program because of lack of communication.”
One person not surprised by Paige’s bewilderment is UWP Party Leader, Allen Chastanet. He explained that the program came into existence under his regime after the discovery that a certificate program would circumvent the need to have five years experience before working on a cruise ship. For six months students participated in classes at Monroe College focused on bartending, housekeeping and some front office procedures, before gaining practical aspects at various hotels around the island.
“We were looking to train about a thousand kids per year on that program, anywhere from 800–1000 kids. The first round we did about 450 kids. The problem was there was not enough money in the Saint Lucia Development Bank to continue bankrolling the project. “Now what I am amazed at is Robert Lewis, who was the dean of Monroe College, who understood the program and details of the program, when he became a minister allowed the program to die.”
Chastanet is concerned by the misinformation being spouted and the potentially catastrophic outcome.
“Now the government is saying they’re going to take three million dollars from NIS to get the program running but the problem is that the cruise lines have not been consulted. They’ve gotten no information since the United Workers Party has come out of office. Nobody has followed up on the program. Nobody has come to them to discuss this program at all. The prime minister just made this announcement but yet the details of the program are not there. So I don’t know. They train these kids and who’s going to organize for them to go and work? He’s filling them with false hope. It’s more than just having to put the money in. There’s a lot of details you have to get involved in to make this thing work.”
The initiative was not without its kinks. One of the issues Chastanet listed was the initial lack of a stringent screening process.
“So when we first did it, the first set of people, only about half of them got job placements. Once we then started understanding the criteria of the cruise ships, we made sure these were put into the program to continue improving it. And then we had a big problem in that what we were trying to do was to organize that the cruise ships would send the money directly back down to the banks. And when that was finally organized, nobody was able to communicate to the cruise ships that the program was allowed to die.”
And what a death it was. The FCCA are not averse to future negotiations but are not inclined to make the first move. “It’s like anything else in life. You are going to work with those that want to work with you. There is definitely need, it is definitely worthwhile to producing employees for the cruise lines. I heard from Norwegian Cruise Line that the employees they hired have worked out wonderfully. It’s just not something that has been broached to us by the government of Saint Lucia.”
Maybe a phone call should be in order?