In what is being hailed as a first step towards the establishment of a manufacturing sector skills council, the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) jointly conducted a courtesy visit to the Ashenheim Road-based National Tool & Engineering Institute last Tuesday (September 19).
The council is a visionary initiative driven by JMEA and the IDB aimed to reduce skills gaps and shortages, by enhancing the development of skilled workforces through the creation of a broader range of industry-relevant training programmes.
The objective is to create a diverse and adaptable range of training programmes that align with the evolving demands of a modern manufacturing industry.
According to the JMEA, this would ultimately increase opportunities to boost the skills and contribution of everyone in the industry’s workforce which would drive productivity and seek to not only fuel the industry’s growth but also ensure Jamaica remains competitive in the global arena.
The importance of this initiative is underscored by the recent renewal of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between JMEA and the HEART/NSTA Trust, under which the National Tool & Engineering Institute is subsumed.
The renewed MOU reaffirms both parties’ shared commitment to advancing workforce development by expanding training programmes that not only align with industry needs but also remain adaptable to emerging trends and technologies.
John Mahfood, outgoing JMEA president, shared that the availability of skilled labour is a pivotal concern for the advancement of both the manufacturing sector and Jamaica as a whole.
He said, “Our collaboration with HEART/NSTA Trust constitutes a crucial component of our association’s long-term strategic plans. We find ourselves at a juncture where a scarcity of appropriately skilled labour could hinder the growth of our sector which is precisely why we have joined hands with HEART/NSTA Trust to produce a workforce that not only possesses the requisite skills but is also equipped to meet the evolving demands of modern manufacturing and associated industries, thus bolstering our sector’s vitality.”
Dr Taneisha Ingleton, managing director of HEART/NSTA Trust, reiterated the importance of having a skilled labour force available.
She shared that the manufacturing sector holds a prominent position among the eight key sectors that shape the programmes at HEART/NSTA Trust and as such the trust has dedicated full attention to the manufacturing sector in its ongoing strategic plan for the upcoming five years.
“Our focus is on substantial physical upgrades and development, and we are allocating J$2.4 billion over the next three years to initiatives in manufacturing and related sectors, including agriculture, logistics, and the automotive industry. This decision is rooted in our recognition that if we aspire to achieve meaningful transformation and expedite growth and development within our nation we must give the manufacturing sector our utmost attention,” said Ingleton.
Kamesha Turner Blake, executive director of the JMEA, in providing an overview on the tour and the broader vision of the collaboration with the IDB, HEART/NSTA and the association, noted that in April, a group from all three entities were part of a delegation that visited the UK to study their apprentice model with an objective to adopt a more modernised model in Jamaica.
The UK Apprenticeship Programme is well established and very focused on outcomes as it combines practical training in a job, with studying targeted at people who are new to a job or in a role that requires training, thereby promoting life-long learning. The programmes are industry-led, which see private firms making a substantial investment into the development of industry standards for specific training / skills and recruiting suitable people.
The visit came out of the engagement in the UK, to ensure that the industry has firsthand knowledge as to the programmes available at HEART/NSTA targeting the industry also to discuss the needs.
Turner Blake outlined that the establishment of a Manufacturing Sector Skills Council is very timely to ensure that major stakeholders sit at the table to develop occupational standards and skills solutions for the industry. This is critical to drive the National Five-Year Manufacturing Strategy, launched in 2020, which puts forward initiatives to grow the contribution of the industry to GDP by December 2025, to J$81 billion.
She noted that “We are already seeing large-scale investments on the horizon or just completed, e.g., the National Bakery J$6.5 billion expansion project, Wisynco Group Limited, largest-ever capital investment, estimated J$4.73 billion for its beverage machinery project and the recently completed Red Stripe J$2.2 billion expansion project. These large investments will significantly boost Jamaica’s manufacturing output and export penetration. However, like other industries, manufacturing is experiencing low productivity due to the low level of skills in the workforce”.
There is a very high demand for machine operators, assembly line workers, welders, electricians, and computer numerical control (CNC) mechanics and engineers. It is also projected that there will be a significant increase in demand for a new set of skills very soon, given the influx of automation and advanced technologies with these large-scale investments.
The establishment of the Manufacturing Sector Skills Council represents a pivotal step towards cultivating a workforce that can drive innovation, efficiency, and excellence within the manufacturing industry. By fostering critical engagement and collaboration among key stakeholders, this initiative is poised to accelerate Jamaica’s economic growth and position it as a regional leader in manufacturing and related industries.
During their visit, representatives from JMEA, IDB, and HEART/ NSTA Trust also engaged in a comprehensive tour of the National Tool & Engineering Institute. The delegation examined existing training programmes and facilities while engaging in meaningful discussions regarding future developments and strategic partnerships.