Speech by the Prime Minister

4th CAP Graduation Exercise and Award Ceremony

Keynote Address


The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP

Prime Minister

At the

4th CAP Graduation Exercise and Award Ceremony

December 8, 2017


I’m very excited to be with you this morning. The minister said that this is my baby. In a way I do feel a certain paternity for this programme because when I was the minister of education that was like ten years ago 2007, one of the first challenges that confronted the government was the high level of unattachment of young people. We were turning out young people from the education system who could not matriculate to higher levels of education, but more problematic we were turning out young people who could not articulate in the world of work so we did an analysis and we realized that approximately 50% of students leaving the secondary school system at age sixteen had no form of certification, were probably not up to the level of literacy and numeracy that was required for them to successfully navigate life but more than that they did not have neither the technical nor vocational skills or the life skills to make something of themselves. It was a travesty that we were spending quite a bit of the national resources on education but simply not getting the results.

It’s not just that these youngsters became the recruiting ground for gangs and criminals, it’s not just that they would not have a pathway to success in life but if you stop to think about it it is also a loss to the society of the potential of your creativity, your productivity and innovation so it’s one thing to have to face the cost that we pay for crime and that cost is real. What we have to invest in national security and what we lose because of crime but also think of the opportunity that we have forgone from your productivity, from your innovation and creativity. The truth is that one of the reasons why we have not grown significantly, as an economy in forty years is that we’ve lost half of our productivity in not training our young people.

Dr. Cornwall mentioned occupational degrees where you could be certified as a butcher, you could be certified as a chef, and you could be certified as a cosmetologist. Previously we did not consider these areas of vocational endeavours as occupation. The society didn’t accord the respect to these areas of endeavours so our young people were exposed to only a very narrow range of what could be considered acceptable vocational or professional endeavours and so what we did and what our society was effectively doing was locking out our young people from the respect that a job gives them.

We had a situation in Jamaica where we would have young people whose only option was to sit on the roadside and dig a hole in their hand middle and I thought that that was not acceptable. We have to do something in the education system to capture all those young people and give them an opportunity so we came up with a policy. The policy was called Compulsory Education. What do we mean by this? It’s not compulsory in the sense that we’re going to drag you off the road and lock you up in a school. That is not what it means. What it means is that the Jamaican state must guarantee every single Jamaican citizen the opportunity to access high quality education from their third birthday to their eighteenth birthday and we decided that we would out in place the resources, put in place the institutions to make this happen.

Comprehensive programme, we looked at our early childhood institutions and we figured how we would expand the government’s footprint in early childhood and ensure that from the early age from the basic education age we would be giving our young people a good start and I believe that we are working fairly well there.

Then we looked at the primary years, and we said that at the primary level we must end the situation where there is a high level of students leaving the primary school illiterate and we launched a major programme around literacy and we nationalized the Grade Four Literacy and Numeracy Test moving literacy at the time was at somewhere in the region about 56% to now where we have literacy scores in the region of about 85 – 90% literacy in year.

We introduced another programme called the Competence Based Transition Programme to ensure that students wouldn’t leave the primary school illiterate by virtue of the GSAT route because all that we were doing was transferring the problems from primary schools into secondary schools. Secondary schools were not able to do what they should do which is to empower you with general knowledge and get you to point where you can start to specialize. Instead, high schools were becoming centres of remediation, trying to correct the problems that were not dealt with at a primary level so we said no. Primary schools must turn out students who are literate and numerate and ready to receive general education and I believe we have been fairly successful with that and now we have a high school system where we can lay on top of general education, vocational skills and character education.

We developed this programme called the Career Advancement Programme. In the first iteration of the programme we wanted to ensure that those students who were leaving school at sixteen without any certification at all, they may have sat the CXC exams and probably had only one CXC or some of them as they say in Jamaica just out school- we just went to school, we didn’t sit any exams and we’re out of school and that was not acceptable so we developed the Career Advancement Programme to specifically target those students who would have had this deficiency in certification. it was not an easy road to start the programme because not everyone believed in it, not everyone saw the need for such a programme.

You had the Heart Institution which they had a particular modality for training. High schools felt well I’m doing well, I don’t need to focus on these students anymore they’re out of school. They’re not my problem anymore but I insisted as Ministers should do and I insisted on the technocrats in the Ministry of Education. I see the CEO smiling because she was one of them that I insisted on and she carried the ball very well and we managed to get the programme established and we started off fairly well. There were a few schools who decided to support the program and others were very sceptical of the programme but the students who were enrolled in the first batch were very enthusiastic because they saw the need and i went around and toured some of the classes and I could see that the students there appreciated the fact that they were being given a second chance. the program has evolved it’s not a second chance program anymore. This is now the modality of providing the total education for the Jamaican citizen between the ages of sixteen and eighteen.

So you can if you choose to follow the traditional route, you can do your CXC’s and you can go into 6th form and afterwards if you’re successful with your CAPE exams who knows you might want  to go on to do your degree and become part of the 15% of the population that has some kind of academic or professional qualification but the truth is that the growth in our society and the increase in our productivity as a nation will not necessarily come from a single emphasis or focus on academic qualifications. The truth is that the societies that are doing well, that are growing; they have emphasized and focused on technical, vocational and occupational education.

What we would like to see- yes we could have 15 even 20% of our labour force with academic qualifications but we want to see the remaining 80% with technical, vocational and occupational certification. We want to see a labour force that is ready for work.

I want the graduates to absorb this point that I’m about to make. The traditional framework, the traditional metric of success in life as what we knew from our traditional British background it’s not the lawyer , the doctor who has the standard profession; the profession that are earning probably the largest income claims now are in innovative fields, technical fields, creative fields and we have to prepare you for those kinds of endeavours; those types of jobs.

We are restructuring the education and training system to ensure that in the new economy you will have a functional place and you will be able to matriculate, articulate, navigate and indeed fulfil yourself in that new economy. The area of growth for Jamaica will be in logistics. It will be in business process outsourcing but more so in knowledge process outsourcing. The area of growth will be in mining and we will need technical expertise in those areas so fields such as engineering; very important.

We will also  see significant growth in areas of the creative arts and we tend to undervalue those entertainment, music production; all of those are skilled areas that we need to have resources in so we have decided as a government to restructure our training institutions to be able to ensure that we meet the demands of the new economy, in other words we are aligning the education system with the world of work; we’re aligning education with industry.

But, we also recognize that when you train and you get your certificate, you want that certificate to signal something, it must mean something and so the government is standing behind the certification that it gives. We see your certification as equal in value as a certification received in the profession or traditional fields; there’s no discrimination and so if someone comes with CXC’s or the come with NVQ’s or they come with our new partners which I had introduced, the City and Guilds. We treat them as equal partners, equal certification. And when look at all professions as equal because the value of the profession is what it contributes to the gross domestic product of this country.

If you are a butcher then we should provide the framework  that you can get your PHD as a butcher and get the respect because you have refined your area of expertise because at the end of the day you seek to get knowledge not only to be wiser, you seek to get skills because you want to be respected and as prime minister and even when I was minister of education that never escaped me. people want their education, they want their certification, they want  their training because they want to be respected. At the end of the day your education and the certification of it shows that you now have your independence in your hands and that is the definition of a job.

When you are able to work for yourself and earn your own fresh cash as the minister pointed out you are independent but more than that your education , your certification and your job defines you so when someone asks you who are you what do you answer to say? Graduands who are you? People who have their degrees in accounting and you say who are you, they say I am an accountant, I’m a lawyer, I’m a doctor; that defines them. Their profession defines who they are but who are you? What value does the society gives you based up on your education and your certification? Who are you? We want to see the day when you can stand up proudly and say I’m a butcher, I’m a cosmetologist, I am an electrician, I’m a tiler. The value in the society is only not accorded to certain professions but the fields that you endeavour to, to study and maintain the high standards. You are accorded value in the society for that.

It’s an interesting thing to note and I see our friends from the UK. When we think of the question who we are, in the medieval times in the UK they formed guilds of workmen so you had masons who formed a guild and you had carpenters who formed a guild and that was about it’s not just a union but it was a trades union. It was about developing standards for the skills that accorded them respect in their society so when they were asked who am I they responded I’m a mason not that I laid blocks or I laid bricks, but I laid blocks or bricks to a standard. When you see my work and the fabulous cathedrals that were built.

We may look at it as oh, that is no value but they saw in it a skill, a profession, a high standard that they maintained. Whatever profession you seek to pursue, whatever certification you get, you must seek to build the value in it as well by continuing to innovate. You’re a nail technician and that is the profession you’re going to pursue, do it to the best, keep on innovating, develop some new style and i know many of the nail technicians here and the cosmetologists here, you are going o be very innovative in developing the new style and fashion in the industry.

If you’re a butcher then develop that skill and profession. Make sure that I get the best cut beef because believe me the tourism industry complains. Once we have a labour force that recognizes the value of the profession and starts to maintain high standards in their profession and the society accords value to the profession then that is the greatest asset for an investor to consider when choosing where to do business.

It is also the greatest asset in keeping us as a society crime free because no one who values their profession is going to degrade himself or herself by getting involved in crime. People ask what our crime fighting strategies are. If I could have ten halls like this around Jamaica filled with our young people graduating in trained skills the level of crime in this country would be zero.

All of those who are taking on lottery scamming as a profession they should be working in the BPO sector. All of those people who trying to figure out how to hack accounts getting involved in cyber-crimes, they should be developing software and developing apps. All of those who are digging off people’s grills on their homes at night they should be welders and masons and carpenters so i’m insisting as i did when i was minister of education on the CAP Programme, i’m insisting on the merger of HEART, JFLL and NYS so that we can merge the resources and get the synergy to expand our training so that every single young person in Jamaica between ages three and eighteen can have total education and then we put on top of that the HOPE Programme which takes you now from nineteen to twenty-three where we give you further training through apprenticeship and if we are able to capture all our young people, the one hundred and fifty thousand we estimated who are unattached and bring them into some form of training then the gangs won’t be able to recruit. You won’t have time to get into argument and then one stab one and then another murder is committed. That is part of our crime fighting strategy but it will take some time but what I see here is very heartening and I feel almost like a father looking at a son or a daughter graduating.

I thank you.