I am pleased to participate in this 60th anniversary of the WorldSkills International General Assembly, which also coincides with the 4th staging of the National Skills Competition.
On behalf of the people of Jamaica, I extend a warm welcome to each one of you, especially our visitors, who have travelled from near or far to be here. The hearts and souls of our people embrace you, and we hope that you will have an unforgettable experience here in Jamaica.
Since 1950 when the 1st WorldSkills Competition took place in Spain, countries in Europe, Asia, North America and Australia have hosted the Competitions. There has never been a General Assembly in the Caribbean, and we are especially delighted that you have chosen Jamaica to have your meeting during your Diamond Anniversary year.
Jamaica is the first Caribbean nation to become a member of WorldSkills International and we trust this gathering will be the launch of your brand in the Region. I hope this will offer a platform for the expansion of skills training and development in the Caribbean and the wider Americas.
The Caribbean has built a solid reputation for producing exceptional athletes and it is a legacy we also wish to transfer to the skilled arts and technologies. We hope the proposed WorldSkills Foundation will serve to attract more regional recognition and support for the Biennial Skills Competition.
I wish to use this opportunity also to acknowledge our corporate and institutional partners in this venture. Many organisations have given their time, resources and interest to this developmental occasion, and we recognise them accordingly.
I make special mention of the HEART Trust/National Training Agency, which has been Jamaica’s leading institution for vocational development and training. Your mission to create a Jamaican workforce, trained and certified to international standards, one that stimulates employment-creating investment, contributes to the improved productivity of individuals, enterprises and the nation, and lifts the standard of living of our people, can only be the focus of adulation. Your presence here today is proof of the dedication with which you treat your mission.
The value of Vocational Training
I must turn my attention at this point to individuals who are perhaps the most significant part of our presence this evening, that is, the young people who are here to demonstrate their skills and compete. Educator, Mary McLeod Bethune once said, “We have a powerful potential in our youth…” I think the underlying ethos of WorldSkills International recognizes this vast potential. Their aim is to ‘achieve higher standards and status for vocational education and training on a worldwide basis.’
I take this opportunity to remind the competitors and observers that just as persons who have embarked on other career paths, individuals working in technical and vocational areas are also required to achieve excellence.
Unfortunately, we have not always succeeded in making skilled artisans feel that they are doing well at the highest levels. For many, education is often interpreted as training in the traditional professions. In many instances, vocational and skills training are viewed as something students engage in when they do not make the grade to pursue other subject areas.
However, I would like to propose to you this evening that the benefit of skills training is also needed by professional persons. I want to share with you a quote from the book Education, which I think is apropos to support my proposal.
An education derived chiefly from books leads to superficial thinking. Practical work encourages close observation and independent thought. Rightly performed, it tends to develop the practical wisdom which we call commonsense. It develops ability to plan and execute, strengthens courage and perseverance, and calls for the exercise of tact and skill.
Working with one’s hands can be an enriching and rewarding experience. Skills training will make young people masters and not slaves of labour and will help to make their positions one of usefulness and honour.
In educating our youth, we should seek to give them the training that will make them self sustaining. Instead of incurring debt, or depending on the self-denial of their parents, they can depend on themselves. When we teach youngsters life skills, we are teaching them to handle and to value money, the value of time, strength and opportunity.
Our young people who are involved in practical skills training are learning values and attitudes which will be useful in other spheres of life, values such as:
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They will soon learn that education is not to teach them how to escape the disagreeable tasks of life or the heavy burdens, but to identify better ways of managing while doing their part to make the world a better place.
Many times, physical labour and vocational skills are not looked on favourably because it is felt that they are undertaken out of necessity and not from choice. The person performing them does not display pride or passion for excellence, and so does not command respect.
Skills training of any kind should develop habits of accuracy and thoroughness, whether traditional or vocational. Young people should be encouraged and inspired by ambition to constantly improve and learn the best methods to make their work as perfect as human brains and hands can make it.
As you discuss various aspects of ‘Technical and Vocational Education Training’ at this Assembly, and examine the ‘Implications for Sustainable Development’ you must never forget the important call that is being made for you to contribute to the process of nation-building. On the point of national development, your efforts must be seen within the wider scheme of the new and bright future we seek for ourselves.
Our countries will not be in a position to provide for its people, safeguard its physical heritage and generate its own wealth, if its youth are not empowered to be leaders of this process. The fact remains that no one is going to build your nation for you. You are the nation builders! You are the technicians! You are the craft persons! You are the holders of vocational expertise! For this reason, you must begin to inculcate and nurture traits of dedication, perseverance, and excellence in your endeavours.
It is not immaterial that most of you have spent a good part of the past two years preparing for this Competition. That, in and of itself, speaks to the understanding that you all possess of how you must treat with your own development and, by extension, the course of your country.
On the point of regional and global development, your quality efforts must be seen against the backdrop of a dynamically changing international space. You would all have felt the impact of the global economic crisis. You would also be aware of the increased expenses that many have had to bear, the loss of gainful employment that many have suffered and the threat of harder times still to come. In between talks of double dip recession, markets stablising and national economies beginning to rebound, the questions remains, “What will this mean for you young people from the Caribbean and around the world?”
You will have to be among the cadre of globally-minded individuals who see the Caribbean as a contributing part of the worldwide exchange of goods, services and technologies. There are among you, people who will be engineering new strategies and products to combat waste production.
Among you, are persons who will create new facilities to build more industries. Present here today, are also persons who will create new systems of transportation that will balance effective town and country planning with efficient fuel consumption and population carriage. There are also persons who will improve the delivery of health services.
You must see yourselves in these roles and embrace them. I challenge all of you to exercise quality approaches to your undertakings both at this competition and for the rest of your lives, for the sake of the global village in which you live and of which you are a part.
Many traditional jobs are disappearing and are being replaced by new skills ushered in by innovations in information communication technology, which is one of the six categories of this Competition. Skills training ensure that workers get connected and stay connected to the job market, and are easily re-integrated when economic activity is restored. We must also refocus our training infrastructures and resources to create sustainable crisis response strategies for our workforce and economy.
WorldSkills Jamaica has promoted a good working relationship between the public and private sectors. Collaboration between both sectors helps to identify and match labour market trends with the needs of the productive sector. Going forward, it is partnerships like this that must put the Jamaican workforce at the cutting edge of human resource development strategies.
This evening, I believe we have in this National Indoor Sports Centre, the seeds of a bright future planted in the hearts and minds of the young people whose talent and work are on display. That is true not only for Jamaica, but for all the countries represented at this General Assembly.
I wish every success to each competitor. Remember your legacies, you skills, your families, your communities and your countries; work to make them proud and win their respect for the choices you have made.
Best wishes for a successful Assembly and Competition. I thank you.