MONTEGO BAY, St James — Jamaicans’ lack of awareness of and subsequent failure to take up well-paying jobs in the local tourism sector has contributed to the need to hire expats, according to executive director of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), Dr Carey Wallace.
Parents and educator, he argued, do not encourage the country’s best and brightest to aspire to careers in the sector.
“They’re saying to turn a doctor or turn a lawyer or turn an engineer or turn an actuary. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying the alignment to tourism is not there,” said Wallace. “Are we aligning our human resources with the number one industry that has the greatest potential for growth?”
He was speaking at Tuesday’s launch of the National Tourism Debate competition in Montego Bay, one of the initiatives he is hoping will help engage youngsters from an early age and spark their interest in tourism careers. There are good jobs available, Wallace told his audience.
“When we now need those bright adults to take the top positions, to have loads of responsibility, to run a 2,000-room hotel, to be the exec chef that has to have the knowledge of cuisine and chemistry and all these things, food and beverage management with cost control and complexities, we find that we have to sign work permits to allow foreigners to come in,” he said.
“It’s a travesty and those are the jobs where they have the Audis and BMWs and nice houses in the hills and yet our Jamaicans know that our educational systems steer into other channels. They then graduate and they look to going abroad to then have that semblance of that lifestyle,” Wallace added.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness was lambasted earlier this year after suggesting that there was a need to import skilled labour to fill jobs available in the country. Critics who argued that many Jamaicans are unemployed vociferously argued against the suggestion. However, players in the country’s tourism sector, like others around the world, have steadily complained that there is simply not enough labour available.
On Tuesday, Wallace noted that while there are locals who have the practical skills to do various top jobs within the sector, there are challenges when it comes to industry-required qualifications.
He said this is being addressed through initiatives such as the tourism and hospitality management programme through which high school students can attain an associate degree in the field. He also spoke of the work being done through the Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation, a division of the TEF.
He is hopeful that this work will change the way locals view tourism jobs.
“The perception of a general local citizen is that once you start think tourism, you start think servitude, you start thinking waiter and bartender and grounds man and you think of the lower positions. Do you know that we even have to give work permits for vets to come into Jamaica for tourism, veterinarians for the dolphins that are here are part of a tourism product that require those services to support,” he said.
TEF is hoping that initiatives such as the National Tourism Debate competition will put tourism at the forefront of youngsters’ minds. According to Wallace, it is a way to ensure that “the conversation can begin at the high school level”.
For this year’s event, which will see 16 schools participating, TEF has committed $3.5 million in support.
“Bringing that knowledge of tourism, that association with tourism, that consideration of tourism is something that we are hoping will emanate from this national tourism debate, that it expands and grows and reaches into more and more schools,” Wallace explained.