While male workers have proven unreliable, he said the women are coming out to work. “They have to work, they have to mind their children, they have to run their households. The men are the ones we’re having some problems with,” Lok Jack said during a panel discussion at the 59th Annual General Meeting and Business Breakfast of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) held at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, St Ann’s on Wednesday.
Lok Jack said the major problem for manufacturing today is labour.
“You need to produce more. The problem is a labour problem that we have at the moment. I do not believe that we have a labour skill problem, what I believe is that we need labour,” he said.
But Lok Jack said they were unable to get the necessary labour to make this possible and local companies had automated every function that it was possible to automate. “So our strategy now is to look for more women than men because the women are coming out to work,” he explained.
Lok Jack said everybody was pointing to CEPEP as the source of the labour shortage but he asked his fellow panellists and the packed audience at the Hilton ballroom, made up of business executives, “Have you seen CEPEP workers, guys? Would you employ any of those guys on CEPEP in your plants?
“People may not wish to say this but I can tell you, unless those people have a rebirth. We have a culture in our situation at the moment, even the good people who work in our factories because of the significant (worker) shortage they know, they understand quite clearly that you can’t fire them. They know that we need them. They behave in the worst possible way.”
Lok Jack said absenteeism was a major problem, adding, “We tried all the methods. We tried psychology, we tried training but we all know but nobody is talking about it: high absenteeism and the reason for that is a low unemployment rate of three percent, at least that is what the Central Statistical Office is saying.”
Lok Jack said the CEPEP workers were spoilt by the programme in which they had become accustomed to working for just about four hours a day. He wondered whether they would be able to work for eight hours a day if they got a job in a plant.
Amjad Ali, director of Advance Foam Limited, suggested Government explore an apprenticeship system similar to what operates in the United States and in Germany. Asked whether the On-the-Job Training programme (OJT) was not a form of apprenticeship, Ali said it wasn’t.
He said, “OJT is almost part of make work where you just place persons in businesses with no follow-up, no focus, no measurement, nothing. They just say ‘You need to be somewhere, I call this company, they need five people, I send them.’ In the end there is no measurement, no graduation, no elevation, no increase in capacity or ability, nothing.”
He said his idea for an apprenticeship programme was very different. “If you are engaged in a company, it might be in a manufacturing company where you are going to be a mechanical engineer or a machinist or a welder or an electrical technician, that’s what you will be at the end. So you start studying and working in that environment so at the end you know what you are going to be. Very different from OJT. OJT you just come and you fill a need that is very temporary, it’s not skill based,” Ali said.
He said he is advocating a focused apprenticeship programme which will produce the workers needed by business and industry. “Because remember we have all this money just sitting in banks doing nothing. We have to mobilise those funds and the way to mobilise it is in industry and services. And one of the things we see lacking is worker skills and education,” Ali observed.
He said his company, Advance Foam and its neighbour Blue Waters, at Orange Grove in Trincity, had started an apprenticeship-type programme with the Metal Industries Company (MIC). Ali said the two companies signed a memorandum of understanding with MIC in which they would train university graduates to make them relevant to their respective businesses. But Ali said, “this is on a micro level, I want to see it on a macro level.”