“Getting Caymanians into work is central to reducing inequality,” Premier Alden McLaughlin declared addressed a room full of policy makers and business leaders.
Delivering what he dubbed a speech “addressing the state of inequality in the nation” at the Fidelity Economic Outlook on Tuesday, Mr McLaughlin acknowledged the problem of inequality cannot be fully solved, “but we can, and must, work to dismantle barriers to equality and strive for a culture and environment that fosters fairness and creates opportunities for individuals to help themselves.”
He noted his administration since taking office in June 2013, has worked to restore government’s finances and lay a solid foundation of confidence and investments to help create much-needed jobs.
Jobs for Caymanians remains one of the biggest socio-economic issues in the country and while the Premier noted an overall trend of declining Caymanian unemployment under his government’s watch from a high of 10.5 per cent in 2012 to 8.3 per cent last year, he said he was mindful of those feeling the pain of joblessness.
“National statistics mask individual problems,” he said. “I believe this government deserves huge credit for its achievement is delivering growth and cutting the unemployment rate but I understand that is no consolation if you are still one of those unable to find work. If it is your livelihood that has been lost; if it is your family struggling to pay household bills, then the reality is very different from that more positive national picture.”
The Premier said that’s why government must do more to address the problem and again called on the business community to play its part.
“In a growing and successful economy, we should not accept the position in which Caymanians who want to work and are able to work, find they cannot get work. Both government and business should find this unacceptable and agree that if this issue is not aggressively tackled, it will create more inequality and cause division in our society,” he told the gathering at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
He said the soon-to-be launched Ready2WorkKY jobs programme, for which government has earmarked $1.7 million to help companies hire Caymanians and train them, is part of his government’s answer to the solution.
Speaking to journalists after his presentation, Mr McLaughlin said unlike Project NiCE, which provided short-term work during a Christmas clean-up exercise, the new initiative would be more along the lines of the model used by the School of Hospitality Studies in giving workers the skills they need to be competitive in the job market.
“This is about upskilling individuals and hopefully getting them ready to take on fulltime employment. Whatever their shortcomings are, whatever the gaps are in their skillsets…hopefully would be filled.
“If they are not kept on by their employers taking them on…they can move on because they are now more employable, more marketable, more attractive to other employers,” he said.
While the Chamber of Commerce has been lukewarm to government’s push, Mr McLaughlin stressed the need for partnership, while taking a swipe at the business group.
“Quite frankly, the views of the Chamber of Commerce are completely out of touch with what the reality is but I’m happy to say other businesses have responded very positively with respect to this and their willingness to participate.
“I am absolutely confident that we will make a go of this. We’ve got enough money to employ 245 people over the course of the programme,” he said.
He said the plan was to give employers as little reason as possible to say no to taking people on and giving them a chance.
“I didn’t just pull the idea of Ready2WorkKY out of my back pocket. This is something we have been working on for quite a number of months because we know that for this to work, it has to be a partnership between the private sector and government.”
The Premier promised more details of the initiative at a press conference to be called in the coming days.