By Richard Harrison: Belize is a developing melting pot of born Belizeans mixed up with immigrants from Central American republics and from far away as China, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Nigeria and the Phillipines.
The country needs a lot of technical skills….masonry, carpentry, furniture design technicians, plumbing, electrical, welding, air-conditioning and refrigeration, sewing and tailoring, nursing, child care and elderly care technicians, laboratory technicians, auto-repair and maintenance mechanics, lathe operators, weed eater, lawn mower and motor cycle repair, auto body works, palapa building, marina building, landscaping, computer repairs and maintenance, marine engine and boat repairs and operators, heavy-duty equipment operators and repairs, trained truck and bus/taxi drivers, glass work technicians, among many others.
Since we do not develop enough of our own appropriately….immigrants are taking a larger share of the demand for technical services.
Most of these skill sets offer opportunity for self-employment and the building of small, highly flexible and competitive small and medium sized businesses….marketable through the various inexpensive social media platforms.
Belize borrowed over $40 million recently to build ITVETS (technical and vocational schools) all over the country to attempt to fill this gap…..however, government changed and so did the short-term priorities (Belize does not have political consensus on a long-term development plan)….these schools have shifted focus to training people mostly for service jobs in the tourism and information technology sectors.
Why has focus shifted from one set of skills to another set of skills? Instead of adding to increase the number of skill sets for which training is provided?
It is currently very difficult to find good providers of services with these skill sets….when you do, they are always asking for advance payment….or for one to provide tools for them….or for one to go search for and purchase the supplies and materials that they need. Many times the job is inadequate or substandard….or worse, left incomplete….with the need to call another technician to complete the job to some acceptable level of functionality.
The technicians should be thought how to cost a job….so that they can price their services properly….to provide lowest cost for highest quality….while still making a profit. The mostly untrained people now offering these services run away as soon as you ask them for an estimate for materials and labor….they either do not know how to do one, or prefer the grey area of floating charges….so they can escalate and take more from one job…rather than finishing up rapidly and moving to another job.
Forget about expecting a guarantee for any of the jobs…it is just not in their consideration…and this in itself can differentiate one’s enterprise…develop one’s credibility…and competitive advantage in the market place for technical skills.
The older, more experienced technicians are almost always very busy and unavailable…..so there is opportunity for a lot of young people who have the discipline to start up their own self-employment or small business in any of these fields.
A functional motorcycle or small pickup truck is a most important part of the start-up investment….because mobility is key….so that one can offer services within a wider radius to more potential customers. The basic tools and materials of the trade is also a part of start-up cost.
Beltraide gave away grants of around $1.8 million this past year to “entrepreneurs”….each getting around $10,000 grant funds….which is exactly about the amount that these technicians would need to start up. Some acknowledge receiving these grants….yet many others complain that they did not receive the money…even after their business plans were received and accepted. It would appear that this projects need proper accounting and auditing….so that the money is guaranteed to reach those for which it is intended.
These type of projects would perhaps be better directed at the higher-performing graduates of the ITVET’s….so that it serves to attract better quality students to these schools….and encourage them to perform at a higher level. This makes the investment institutionalized…and with standard criteria for development and selection of a constant flow of potential grantees. Priority should be given to those students who can provide some form of personal capital, perhaps a 20% of start-up capital….because when someone has something to lose….not only to gain….they will use capital more efficiently and effectively….and we will get bigger bang for the grant investments. The ITVET’s can be developed into business incubators over time.
The Ministry of Education needs to promote the technical skill sets that the ITVET was established to address….so that more young people become interested in them as a career….they should use features of the more successful technicians….like F.T. Williams….Cayo Steel….R&R Body Works….Medina Construction…Bradley’s Boat Builders…etc….to show that these technical skill sets, combined with some management skills, can deliver success beyond one’s imagination…can allow one to see and appreciate opportunity further than their nose.
It is not that answering phones at the front desk or in a call center….or waiting tables and home keeping in hotels….is not important and rewarding….it is that those jobs are fine as temporary generators of income while one is still studying….but you cannot make a career and life out of them…and provide properly for a family.
The need for technical skills is growing and will always be there….as the fables allude to “the shoe maker, the baker, the candle-stick maker”…..and these are the skills that one can develop full self-employment from….develop careers….and provide for families….these should remain priority of the ITVET’s….even if other skills are also provided for…..one skill set should not cannibalize the other.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
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