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Vocations are critical for Virgin Islands youth

Dickson C. Igwe. Photo: Provided
By Dickson C. Igwe

A workforce that possesses appropriate technical and vocational skills is critical for the Virgin Islands economy, and the welfare of the country’s youth

It is a fact that the former UK colonies and Overseas Territories of the UK, owing to colonialism, culture, and history, have been overwhelmingly oriented towards academics in learning. The stress is on a theoretical, white-collar oriented, education model.

Theory is perceived to be superior to practice. White-Collar is better than Blue Collar. Society views the lawyer and office worker as socially more valuable than the carpenter and mason. The scientist is revered, the maritime technician, or electrician, not so much.

Families living in the former colonies value a medical doctor, son or daughter, over a child who trains to become a plumber or builder. This is a gross misconception, even deception, in work and career preference.

Believing the academics are superior to the vocations is a national ‘’inferiority complex’’ that is a great hindrance to developing a sustainable and resilient economy, especially in the British Commonwealth.

For example, the stress on developing a theoretical education model, over placing resources into developing the vocations, is at the root of economic underdevelopment in much of Sub Saharan Africa. The lack of a vocationally trained and skilled workforce stifles productivity and drives unemployment.

This belief that the academics are superior to the vocations is a derivative of the old UK colonial education model, where Harrow, Eton, Sandhurst, Oxford and Cambridge churned out a ruling class that governed an empire that at its height was even greater than the Roman Empire in landmass.

That theoretical education model is an anachronism. The overwhelming orientation towards the academics in learning is an idiosyncrasy that takes the oxygen away from vocational education, in a world that demands skill sets in science, technology, engineering and math, subjects that depend on the vocations to deliver sustainability, productivity and innovation to the market economy, and society.

That misplaced belief that the lawyer is superior to the hairdresser and chef, is one reason a country like the Virgin Islands finds itself dependent upon alien labour, while Virgin Islands youth walk the streets looking for white-collar employment, or migrate to the USA and UK where the experience of racial prejudice is a sad reality.

In the West African nation of Nigeria, that deception, that the academics are superior to the vocations - the learning of hands-on skills - is at the root of an education model that has failed the Nigerian economy and society.

In Nigeria, post-independence, overdue stress on a white-collar university education has been to the country’s detriment. The acquisition of crucial vocational skills is lacking in Nigeria. In fact, it is not a stretch stating that the average Nigerian family would be ashamed if their child decided they wanted to learn to plumb, instead of engineering.

But, vocational skills are very much needed to take the Nigerian economy to self-sufficiency, resiliency, and sustainability. But these skills are lacking in the job market owing to a false idea that a university education is superior to learning a skill at a centre of vocational excellence. That Nigerian flawed education model is represented throughout the postcolonial Commonwealth.

Countries such as Germany and Japan, with highly skilled labour forces, raise their economic productivity, driving greater GDP, and a higher standard of living.

For the Virgin Islands, an economy that will increasingly rely on ecotourism, food sufficiency, and an internal market dynamics, to drive economic and social development, the future employment of Virgin Islands youth will be in the vocations, over and above white-collar work in financial services, which in spite of it’s overwhelming contribution to the GDP, remains fragile, with an unpredictable future.

The vocations promise Virgin Islanders full employment and a prosperous future, if only the learning culture can see beyond the desktop, and air-condition office.

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2 Responses to “Vocations are critical for Virgin Islands youth”

  • pat (05/10/2019, 09:39) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Not sure I understood his points
  • E. Leonard (07/10/2019, 18:46) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Indeed, the education model in regional Anglophone countries where academics took precedence over vocations was/is flawed. Peeking backwards, the society was primarily agrarian. Our parents wanted us to do things different from what they did; they didn’t want their children in agriculture; it was to close to Slavery. As such, they pushed their children to put on a tie, business attire…..etc and venture into town to find an administrative job, a government job. They were well intentioned in their quest for their children to cop an administrative job. In time though, working outdoors with one’s hand was stigmatized. Consequently, today there is a dearth of locals in vocations, ie, carpentry (rough and finish), auto/diesel mechanics, plumber, electrician, surveying tech, architectural tech. air condition and refrigeration tech, painter, welder.....etc.

    Moreover, being a medical doctor, engineer, lawyer, architect….etc is worthwhile profession. However, being a plumber, electrician, carpenter, auto-mechanic, air condition technician, mason……etc is also a worthwhile profession that pays well. The VI is a developing territory with an increasing need/demand for vocational skillsets. A strong push is needed to attract/recruit locals into vocations.

    Further, the transition from agricultural subsistence to services starting in the mid 60s created a myriad of new jobs and new job skills. There was a local shortage for the new jobs, requiring labour to be imported. Decades later there is still a shortage and labour is still being imported at a high level. A serious relook at the education model is urgently needed. Vocational skills command salaries/income at a level with admin jobs and often pays more.

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