As the cost of university education in Jamaica rises, many of the country's young people are leaving secondary school to work, creating a gap that many businesses are looking to fill with training and certification. The collaboration of private companies, Jamaica-based institutions, community centres and the government has been essential in creating these opportunities for young Jamaicans. It has also helped to reduce youth unemployment, which stands at 38% nationally, according to World Bank figures.

While its low costs and human talent have made Jamaica a key business destination for an increasing number of multinationals, its commitment to tailoring its employee training to investors' needs has shown just how innovative and collaborative the country can be. 


Home-grown support

Under the 1982 Human Employment and Resource Training (Heart) Act, the Heart Trust/NTA trust fund and training agency was founded, which is financed by a 3% annual contribution from all Jamaican employers above a certain income level. “We always pay close attention to what employers want, because it is their funding we are using to equip the workforce,” says Dr Wayne Wesley, director of the Heart Trust/NTA. “All the training we offer is driven by labour market information and employer feedback indicating where the jobs and the demand will be, and we make sure there is an adequate supply of individuals ready to take on those opportunities.”

The Heart Trust was established to ensure Jamaica’s youth would have an opportunity for upward mobility and development, according to Mr Wesley. It now has 30 training institutes across the country focused on every job sector in Jamaica, from hospitality and construction to beauty care and business process outsourcing (BPO). To date the trust has enrolled about 550,000 trainees and certified more than 300,000. Enrolment for 2016 is estimated to be 55,000.

“We also work with the University of Technology, the University of the West Indies and others. It is a collaborative effort,” says Mr Wesley. “The only concern is the rate at which jobs become available to support the number of people we train.”

The Heart Trust provides a broad base of technician-level training, then partners with industry players to tailor-make custom courses based on their needs. And while the agency offers training in every sector, it prioritises what is at the top of the government’s agenda. “For example, the government is now supporting the BPO sector, so we are making sure our resources facilitate that. Wherever jobs are likely to be is where we have a purpose and a mandate to support,” says Mr Wesley. 

Partnerships in action

“The government, through the Heart Trust, has a customer care BPO programme that it has made available for the industry to build up the labour pool,” says Leroy Reid, country director at service provider Jamaica ACS, a Xerox company. “Xerox also worked with the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica and the government to revise some of Heart’s training curricula to ensure they are a fit for industry requirements.” The biggest BPO player in the country, Xerox now has 7000 employees in Jamaica, its fourth largest concentration globally.

BPO companies also take on training roles of their own to cover trainees’ costs, often in partnership with agencies such as the Heart Trust. Sutherland Global Services, one of the largest BPO multinationals active in Jamaica, offers individuals in at-risk communities an opportunity to be certified with Microsoft basics. “We have so far graduated more than 500 at-risk youths and we have taken a percentage of those as apprentices at Sutherland for a year,” says Odetta Rockhead, Sutherland Global’s vice-president and country head. “This was only made possible by the Heart [Trust]. The apprenticeship programme has them in real-life work roles, from accounting to administration to IT.”

Development continues on the job, according to Gloria Henry, president of the Montego Bay Free Zone, home to 18 outsourcing companies, including Xerox. “We’ve started to expand and move up the value chain with our services – we started finance and accounting, and we can get trained graduates from the universities," she says. "We also started medical billing and software development and [we] intend to expand in that area. The Heart College of Innovation and Technology is expanding and building facilities in Montego Bay and we want to partner with it to expand those skill sets so we can bring more IT-related work to Jamaica.”

Starting at the source

Jamaica’s government is pursuing computer proficiency and ICT education for its youngest citizens with organisations such as E-Learning Jamaica (e-LJam), an agency of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining. E-LJam produces content and curricula for schools in partnership with the Ministry of Education, the country’s universities and other private and public entities to promote technology integration into the education system from preschool through to secondary and teacher training schools.

E-LJam trains all 11,500 teachers in the country’s high school system in partnership with Microsoft, which provides learning suites at a subsidised cost, and with help from the Heart Trust’s ICT training programmes. The agency is currently in the pilot phase of its Tablets in Schools project, supplying 25,000 tablets to students and teachers in 38 schools with the goal of increasing youth access to e-content. 

“We feel that these projects will prepare students to be more technologically savvy,” says Avrill Crawford, the chief executive of e-LJam. “They will ensure that more school leavers have the skills required in growing industries such as BPO – computer literacy, problem solving, and critical thinking. All those things are critical to the success of the BPO industry in Jamaica.”

Remote access 

Despite the Heart Trust’s broad reach, Jamaica has a poverty rate of 16.5% and many economically depressed communities where training institutions have traditionally struggled to reach. “What we have strategically done is something called community training interventions and mobile labs, which deliver training in partnership with us in almost every single community of the country,” says Mr Wesley. These smaller, mobile training units – there are nearly 90 across Jamaica – are operated from churches, community centres and schools in remote areas. They offer training in welding, hospitality, construction and more, with support and guidance from the Heart Trust.

“As an organisation, we are established to facilitate the trust of the government for economic development and our own competitiveness as a country,” adds Mr Wesley. “Our particular remit is workforce development, and for any investor who requires the services of training and development, the Heart Trust stands ready to make that possible.”