Bringing partnerships to life

Higher Education and Private Sector Forum brings new opportunities for schools and industry leaders 

“No student should leave university without work experience!” This charge for Andrea Dempster-Chung, attracted resounding applause from an energized group of private businesses and associations, and faculty and staff from technical tertiary institutions. Dempster-Chung said this, while highlighting opportunities in the creative economy for Jamaica at the Private Sector and Higher Education Forum hosted in Kingston on March 20, 2019 by the USAID-funded Advance Program. Advance is a workforce development initiative that engages education stakeholders and employers to contribute to better employment outcomes for disadvantaged youth.  

The forum’s objectives were: i) to highlight the importance of public-private partnerships in higher education and workforce development, and ii) to facilitate private sector alliances between the Advance Program’s partner institutions and private sector entities. These potential partnership discussions included labor bridging opportunities, mentorship, career guidance, and scholarships for students and professional development for faculty and nonteaching staff.  

Shannon Stone, director of the Office of Citizen Security, USAID Jamaica, encouraged the audience to build partnerships that would give students access to learning in and out of the classroom. Business can do this “by providing internships to students or opening your facilities to faculty and students for experiential learning. Let them see how it all comes to life!” she added. 

The Honorable Pearnel Charles II, in his remarks encouraged participants to not forget the Diaspora. “There are Jamaicans all over who are yearning to give back and to make contributions. They just don’t know how. Show them these pathways. Engage them.” Charles addressed the audience in his capacity as Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  

Regional Chief of Party Alejandro Paredes encouraged the audience to witness the opportunity that the forum presented. Paredes emphasized the value of being able to share the different perspectives and best practices together and to build on the momentum created by industry experts, faculty and nongovernmental organizations.    

The Honorable Alando Terrelonge, Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information delivered the keynote address. He lauded USAID for its vision in supporting the Advance Program, which he stated would go a far way in helping youth and Jamaica on a whole. Terrelonge also charged private sector firms to “create and implement programs to attract new workers and treat human capital development as important strategically in much the same way that investments are made in retooling, in purchasing new equipment, and in marketing programs.” 

Chris Issa, owner of the Spanish Court Hotels advocated for the soft skills in addition delivering technical knowledge to students. “In my industry you have to smile. I have seen an employee who wouldn’t smile, and I wondered why we hired her. Smiling, empathy, social and emotional intelligence are crucial for my industry.” 

Other presenters at the forum included Mr. Jeffrey Hall, managing director of Jamaica Producers, Mr. Solomon Sharpe, chief executive officer of Main Event Group and Ms. Diane Edwards, president of JAMPRO, Jamaica Trade and Invest. 

The forum ended with both the industry experts and school leadership committing to working together. When principals asked about their readiness, Sharpe and Hall expressed an unequivocal yes.  “We will open our doors.”  The Advance Program in Jamaica supports the strengthening of 2-year degree programs at the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica (CCCJ), University of Technology (UTECH) and the Vocational Training Development Institute (VTDI).  To date, with USAID support, the program has facilitated international study tours for faculty and staff, curriculum development in selected programs, as well as labour bridging activities and scholarships for disadvantaged youth. In March 2017, Advance presented the results of the Labour Market Sectors Review followed by a presentation of findings from the Study of Barriers to Access and Completion of tertiary technical education among disadvantaged youth in Jamaica. Advance continues to use research to implement evidence-based activities on the ground.