Friday, March 31, 2017

A futurist, a PM, a path for Jamaica

Jamaica Observer column by Jean Lowrie-Chin - published  MON 27 March 2017 

Edie Weiner - JIS photo
The address by futurist Edie Weiner last Monday gave us a thought-provoking context for the Budget Presentation by Prime Minister Andrew Holness the next day.  New Yorker Edie Weiner is the principal of Future Hunters, which for over forty years, has been using data to predict future developments, with impressive results.  At an event presented by the Jamaica Chapter of the International Women’s Forum (IWF), she challenged the roomful of leaders to rethink education, to capitalize on Jamaica’s youthful population, to respect them so that they in turn will respect our environment.

Ten years ago, she says her high calibre clients were so impressed by her guidance, that they wondered how she was getting it so right.  She explained that her team uses 30 different thought processes to arrive at their recommendations.  Learn more at
Most important of all, she says, is to recognize your ‘educated incapacity’, as you can “know so much about what you already know that you are not looking outside”.  She observed that educated people having acquired so much knowledge, that they hang on to it like an expensive piece of luggage.  This is backward, as she pointed out that while we are hanging on to these brand-name “bags”, someone is racing into the future with their futuristic “backpacks”.
PM Holness with business leader Richard Byles
Therefore it was encouraging that in his budget presentation (well worth the read at  PM Holness recognized the huge potential the global market has for outsourcing.  He noted: “The first segment to have been established and the largest in relative terms is the Information Technology Outsourcing (ITO) segment where activities are focused on providing information technology support … Currently the market for ITO services globally is US$76Billion. The second segment is the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) segment which is linked to the outsourcing of administrative services and back office tasks ...The global market for BPO services is US$38Billion.  The third segment is the Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) segment which involves knowledge-based services including research and development, innovation, design, testing, business consultancy, legal services, accounting, medical and biotechnology services among others that require highly skilled personnel and involve more value-added activities… Knowledge process outsourcing is the fasted growing segment in the industry, with an average growth rate of over 8.6% compared to the industry average of 4.1%.  Jamaica is well poised to do well in this segment.”

While these are great plans, we should heed Edie Weiner’s warnings that the rapid advance of technology is creating disruption.  She noted that what was described as a recession in the early 90s was actually a result of the new disruptive technology. “This was not a recession,” she said, “it was a fundamental global revolution”.
She says, when asked the question “what should children be studying now to be assured of employment?” her answer is that they should become plumbers, electricians and stone masons. Weiner urged an emphasis on critical thinking in education, stating, “In the future no one will be paying for “smart”. They will pay for the intelligence that enables you to figure out things that you have never seen before.”

Our ‘unattached youth’

Weiner’s advice should be taken on board, as the Government develops the Employment aspect of their commendable HOPE Programme.  “It is estimated that there is a pool of approximately 120,000 to 130,000 young persons between 15 and 24 years of age who are not in school, not in a programme of training, and are unemployed,” noted PM Holness. “While a considerable portion of the unattached would have other institutions, which keep them engaged and supported, such as their family, their church, community activities or sports, a significant proportion of them have no structure, order or guidance in their life.”

 “Many of them would not be in institutions long enough to develop character and good citizenship, positive attitudes and skills to assist them in negotiating the challenges of life,” said the Prime Minister. “We see them on the street corners every day when we are going to work and we see them at the same place when we are coming home.  They are at home every day becoming increasingly hopeless and frustrated … These are the most productive years in the human lifecycle and we cannot afford to lose the productive value of our human resource. This is also the age group that is most affected by crime and violence.” With so many unattached youth, we should not wonder at the mindlessness and cruelty of recent crimes; the tragedy at Monteith’s, a respected landmark on Mountain View Avenue is horrifying. I believe we should incentivise more students to become social workers.

We have seen the transformation of such communities as Grant’s Pen and Trench Town when young people have been offered training to make them employable. Being sensitive to their immediate needs, when we led the partnership of the Stella Maris Foundation with HEART/NTA, we established the Norma Chang Daycare Centre so that young women could have a safe place to leave their children while they attended classes. 

As we consider Weiner’s reminder that the fastest period for brain growth is between 0 to 3 years old, we congratulate the previous and current Boards of the Early Childhood Commission in the Ministry of education led by Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan and Trisha Williams-Singh.  Both women continue to collaborate as they have a healthy respect for what each brings to the table:  academic understanding of the issues, and sound organisational skills. Thus, the certification of early childhood institutions is being accelerated to give those precious young minds every chance for healthy development.

The Prime Minister noted that several educational bodies would be merged. “The services would be more effective, have greater reach and enroll more numbers if they were streamlined and coordinated. The government has therefore decided to merge HEART Trust/NTA, the NYS, JFLL, and the Apprenticeship Board in to a single entity,” he said. The streamlining of technology for the public sector should promote greater efficiency at less cost for this and other such mergers.
Let’s drop that expensive but burdensome baggage of old thinking – we have Bolt as our symbol of the world-beating speed we can achieve with our own homegrown talent and strategic application.

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