Building firm leaders should develop fresh talent and take control of their industry before others do, a construction company chief said yesterday.
Charles Dunstan said he wanted to see the creation of “industry-driven” occupational advisory committees for every trade that would allow experts in areas such as masonry, plumbing, carpentry and tiling to shape and set industry training standards.
He added: “That becomes the bible — it goes to workforce development, it goes to immigration, everyone understands that’s what is required in the local industry.”
He said the advisory committees would also be well-placed to advise on the appropriate number of apprenticeships or work permits for each sector.
Mr Dunstan said: “If the call isn’t answered, and no one steps forward to form OACs, then someone else is going to make those decisions.”
He warned that unions or a government department would step in to set guidelines instead.
Mr Dunstan added: “The risk is that it’s going to be people who aren’t knowledgeable enough about what the industry actually needs to function.”
He was speaking as he stepped down as Construction Association of Bermuda president after seven years.
Mr Dunstan said a more structured approach was needed to train and assess labourers and that he hoped people would change their perceptions of a career in the industry.
He added that a more professional approach to training would encourage more young people to remain on the island, which would boost the economy and reduce reliance on foreign workers.
Mr Dunstan said: “I’m shouting out to the community, first of all to my industry to say, this is where we need to be and this is what we need to be doing, the whole model of building your business off of a team of experienced and qualified people from overseas isn’t going to be sustainable in the long run.
“You have got to build the local workforce.”
Mr Dunstan added the association spoke to high school pupils but that children had to be introduced to construction trades aged as young as 11 to harness their interest.
He said that university level scholarships had developed managerial talent, but too little was done to attract entry-level workers.
He explained: “What we’re missing is that middle lane, that middle pathway, that leads to a trades career of the apprentice who then becomes a master tradesman.
“That’s where we’ve failed, we haven’t had the programmes that really have connected the dots and shown parents, students, even the educators, that clear pathway.”
Mr Dunstan said that “significant progress” had been made in the past year, particularly with the Department of Workforce Development and its former minister Diallo Rabain.
However, he added that the association and its members had been unaware of the opportunity to use government-backed apprenticeship contracts.
Mr Dunstan explained that the government scheme allowed employers to develop staff through structured programmes that included education funded wholly or in part by the workforce development department.
He said a significant attraction would be the offer of payroll tax relief to the businesses involved.
He noted that work permits are tied to the contracts, which means a set number of foreign workers can be employed for each apprentice.
Mr Dunstan added that he “firmly” believed that was a way to encourage employers and make sure they considered succession planning.
He asked company executives to approach the association if they wanted more information or assistance.
Mr Dunstan, the managing director of contract and supply firm Kaissa, said: “The nice part about these government contracts is that they put a real structure to it, it gives the employee some real obligations and it gives them some real outcomes at the end too.
“The employer has satisfaction that this person is abiding by the terms of his contract and their learning.
“We should be able to see the outcomes in terms of their graduation and results from their courses and know that at the end of each level we can clearly state that this person is able to perform at this level, within that trade.”
Mr Dunstan, who will remain on the association’s board, said that, as well as developing self-esteem, empowerment and career opportunities, structured apprenticeship schemes would help bring the “clear hierarchy and strata” lacking in the industry.
He claimed the apprenticeship programme would remove subjectivity from work permit applications and offered Bermudians the chance to show they have reached trade benchmarks.
Mr Dunstan added that the next step would be to consider minimum wages for each tier “so that a Bermudian shouldn’t be disadvantaged, simply for wanting to make an adequate wage attached to his level of experience”.
He said: “There are isolated examples of employers who will go out and seek low-paid but qualified masons, say, from overseas and then attach that wage level to their stated job description, so that when a Bermudian applies for the job, they say, ‘I can’t work for that’.”
The CAOB, now headed by Simon Tully, whose career has developed in the air-conditioning industry, trains older members of the workforce to teach younger ones and plans to become an official assessment centre to establish levels of knowledge and skills gaps.
Mr Dunstan said the country was “paying the price” for the collective ambition to send teenagers into the academic world.
He added: “There’s a perception in the community that nobody wants to send their children to work in construction. As a parent, that’s not your goal necessarily.
“There’s a whole mindset that you have to send your children to college.
“While I think that getting away from Bermuda and being more independent is great and I do firmly believe in that ... it’s not for everyone.”
Mr Dunstan hoped the introduction of a more organised framework would encourage young people to remain at home.
He said: “The children who leave the island to go to school for four years, they’re not here inputting into the community for nine months a year, so we’d have people who are here making money, at a younger age, building their savings, maybe investing in property ... and really just spending within our economy.
“Rather than going out socialising in a restaurant overseas, they’re doing it here.”