By Staff Writer
Under the leadership of Chief Officer Wesley Howell, WORC (Work Opportunities and Residency Cayman) seems poised to enter a new phase of its mission to ensure that Caymanians are prepared, prioritised and placed in the jobs market.
Operating under Hon. Minister for Border Control and Labour Chris Saunders, the WORC agency is in the process of further streamlining its operations under the guidance of Mr Howell.
WORC has had its challenges in fully realising its potential since being established in 2018 by the then Progressives-led Unity government.
Accessibility and a user-friendly interface with employers and job-seekers have been among the main drawbacks of WORC.
Under the discerning oversight and capable guiding hands of experienced Chief Officer Howells- who also functions as the jurisdiction’s Supervisor of Elections - WORC could be on the verge of a significant turnaround.
That was a key takeaway from Mr Howell’s appearance on the first edition for 2022 of the Caymanian Times live-streamed programme, The Panel, hosted by publisher Ralph Lewis.
Also putting their extensive insights ‘to work’ on this issue were regular panellists Roy Bodden - a former Minister of Labour, and Mario E Ebanks, who once headed Cayman’s Department of Labor and Pensions.
Adding to the poll of expertise, Caymanian Times publisher Lewis has also been prominent in establishing a pioneering jobs portal in the Cayman Islands.
Overcoming persistent technological hurdles especially with registering on the WORC site has been one of the challenges which Mr Howell said is now being addressed in line with other policy changes.
“There was a policy decision around making sure that Caymanians were the only ones that were able to see these jobs that weren't being advertised that Caymanians could apply to and the only way we could do that on a technology base is to have them registered,” he outlined.
“That has presented his own issues, and it's often worked to restrict the number of persons viewing the jobs so a policy change has been made. But the technical bits are now catching up with that where the first change you'll see coming up quite shortly here is that the available jobs will be quite searchable without registering for them.”
Mr Howell went on to explain the importance of the registration process saying that it’s the key in that it guides decision-making on Caymanians interested in jobs being advertised and work permit requests being submitted.
“So, if there's a work permit being requested and there are qualified Caymanians interested in applying for it, then decision-makers will have the ability then to reject that application and encourage the employer to go out and hire the Caymanians to develop the local talent pool.”
He also stated that the jobs pool needs to get to the point where employers are demonstrably looking for Cayman workers before selecting non-nationals.
Major ministerial policy announcements are said to be forthcoming regarding WORC, including how jobs are job advertised.
Scholarships, skills training and development were also highlighted in this edition of The Panel with sage interventions by panellist Bodden academic and former Labour minister) and Mario Ebanks a previous director of the Department of Labour and Pensions and a human resources consultant.
Bodden: “I follow the changes that are being made but one of my concerns is that we still lack a sound scientific base for our development in terms of manpower, and labour, because we have never, to my knowledge, had a proper manpower needs assessment conducted. And so, in the absence of that, how can we be precise?” he wondered.
He also suggested that labour and immigration should be separated rather than falling under the same umbrella relating to the WORC agency.
In giving an assessment of WORC, Dr Bodden said: “As former Minister of Labour myself, I am well aware of some of the challenges. I took cognizance when WORC came in and it was developed and hyped up, and I thought that that would have been more effective than it really has been.”
However, he gave Chief Officer Howell his full vote of confidence in his ability to bring about the changes needed to enable WORC to live up to its potential for Caymanian workers.
Panellist Mario Ebanks, who also gave Mr Howell a ‘thumbs-up’ to drive the needed improvements at WORC, called for a defined strategy to essentially “make WORC work” better.
“Unless the government sets up a vision we want to be and a strategy, the private sector is not going to go and do it on their own without direction,” he suggested.
“What is the vision? What is the plan? If you have a vision, then we can work towards something. I'm concerned about Cayman as a world-class service economy. We export services, not products. But what are we doing enough to develop the critical human capital that's required to support that service economy?” Mr Ebanks wondered.
While diplomatically deflecting the political issues, Mr Howell outlined that in terms of policy and operational issues - which fall within his scope of responsibility - there is a commitment to addressing these and to strike the right balance.
“The PACT government is aligned in promoting employment as it cuts across various areas including Labour and Immigration, Tourism and Education…I know that the government is indeed interested in a joined-up approach.”