By Lindsey Turnbull
Apprentices on their level 1, 2 and 3 City & Guilds training at Public Works Department’s Construction Trades Training Centre have showcased their skills in a two-day competition featuring multiple trades. This is the second year Public Works have held this competition with excitement high from participants, PWD mentors and industry partners who have sponsored the event. On Tuesday participants showcased their masonry, carpentry, AC & refrigeration, electrical installation and plumbing skills and on Wednesday they competed in electrical, carpentry and masonry tests. Awards were given by Jay Ebanks, Ministry of Planning, Agriculture, Housing & Infrastructure.
Dr Ande Francis, Public Works’ Centre Manager for the Construction Trades Training Programme, gave some background:
“We wanted to provide a platform where apprentices can showcase their skills and their competencies; that’s the reason why this competition was born. It has also served as platform where our industry partners can recruit for industry as well.”
Last year’s competition saw four participants ultimately recruited by Dart and Dr Francis said they were anticipating a big recruitment drive this year. Judging was rigorous.
“Judges are from external sources because one of things we wanted to ensure was that, as far as quality assurance is concerned, we have that covered. So, we have persons externally both from other educational centres and persons from industry who are working in the areas in which they are judging,” he advised.
Dr Francis said they had received a tremendous response from industry, with Dart Group, Phoenix, Arch & Godfrey and Kirks Office providing sponsorship for this programme. He also expressed his thanks to long-time supporter of the programme, Andro Group.
Job placement is a big focus for those competing.
“Participants are able to showcase their skills and competencies to a wider audience, not just their peers and instructors, but the general public itself, which includes industry partners, with a hope that one of the industry partners will see them, recognise their skills and hopefully recruit them,” Dr Francis said.
Public Works Department Director Troy Whorms said they were expecting to see how participants could translate the skills they had learned with them into the real world.
“The skills competition is supposed to bring out their creativity and showcase how they work independently and to really produce as independent workers,” he confirmed.
Mr Whorms was pleased with the turnout, with far more interest generated this year.
“They are all excited, the staff are quite excited, even industry is excited to see what it produces. What we’ve found is that the skills competition showcases them on a different level which means employers start looking at the ones who are doing well in these types of activities, because they can actually see not just classroom learning but real-life practical application translate directly into the workforce,” he said.
Mr Whorms said linking the students with potential employers was a dynamic process that involved industry partners and public sector departments looking to take on people with these skills.
He hoped that the students would gain confidence from the experience, having taken the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned and what they were capable of, and be able to challenge themselves and be able to produce under pressure, he hoped they would really prove to themselves they could produce whatever was asked of them to a very high standard.
The skills and confidence should translate into employment or ownership of their own companies, as students also learn soft skills and other skills relating to business ownership via partnerships with entities such as the Cayman Islands Small Business Association and others, Mr Whorms shared.
“At the end of the day we are teaching them to be professionals. It depends on their drive and then giving them the road map, the skills the opportunities to really be the best version of themselves,” he said. “We are rooting for them to be the future of our country. It starts here, it starts with the Public Works apprentice programme, it starts for our young people.”
Dr Francis said historically, technical education had been lacking not just in Cayman but globally, however things were changing.
“I believe that technical and vocational education is a driver for national development,” he confirmed. “When you look at what is happening here in the Cayman Islands: construction is leading as far as development is concerned. That brings economic opportunities and national development.”
Recruitment for the Public Works training programme has always been over-subscribed, he said, with last year’s programme attracting twice the 35 places available.
“This year’s recruitment process will open tomorrow [Wednesday 31st May] and the buzz on the ground is already phenomenal in terms of the number of persons who have already passed through our offices wanting to be part of this programme,” he said. “We really want to expand the programme. It is geared for young Caymanians. We believe, if we can provide the kind of training that is required, then industry will benefit because they are the ones that recruit and take them.”
Winners will receive prizes in the form of tools and equipment.
“We thought that was of more benefit than cash prizes because at the end of the day apprentices should have their tools and equipment once they leave here at Public Works and go into the world of work,” Dr Francis stated.