AFTER ALMOST FOUR YEARS, A STEP UP FOR PEP

Basseterre, St. Kitts, September 03, 2016 (SKNIS): The People Empowerment Programme (PEP), which is approaching its fourth anniversary and what was only designed to be a short-term skills training programme, will be re-organized, restructured and repositioned into a genuine Skills Training and Empowerment Programme (STEP) where there can be value for money. The National Skills Training Institute will advance the targeted training with respect to STEP to be implemented under the PEP in non-traditional areas such as small engine repair, carpet installation, carpentry, masonry and construction. Also, training in the hospitality industry would be given paramount importance as St. Kitts and Nevis seeks to meet the demands of a thriving professional service-oriented hospitality industry.

The STEP programme will offer short-term job attachment or apprenticeship where persons are given a stint to learn by doing work where they are monitored, evaluated and certified if they are up to par; entrepreneur/incubator programmes will be offered; there will be short term strategic non-obstructionist intervenor in the labour market; and support will be offered to enhance soft skills with respect to behaviour, conduct, and values for sustainable living. The STEP programme will also articulate with other programmes supervised with a National Training Institute.

In addition to those enrolled on the PEP, The National Skills Training Institute will accept applications from persons not on the PEP who demonstrate the right attitude, qualifications and interest to be trained.

Already, all workers on the PEP who are involved in the enhancement of the physical environment have expressed interest in an area in which they would like to be formally trained so that they can be certified.

At the last sitting of the National Assembly on August 23, Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris outlined that the “STEP will be a major advancement, step up if you will on PEP in terms of its philosophical underpinnings, objectives, deliverables and costs to the country. It will be rooted in a people- centered governance framework.”

According to the prime minister, the participants of the STEP will receive “short-term formal training in areas where there is an insufficiency of adequate entry level and level 2 skills and competences to meet market demands, especially in the area of tourism and hospitality and construction.”

He said that with the “geometric growth in our cruise tourism and in stay-over visitors, we can easily estimate over 1000 jobs will become available in tourism and hospitality over the next two (2) years – specifically to service the Park Hyatt with over 300 persons, KOI Resort with over 300 persons, and T-Loft with over 400 employees. Additionally, he mentioned that St. Kitts Castle and other properties are moving a pace in St. Kitts and Nevis.

In the meanwhile, meetings have been ongoing to bring about the desired changes to the PEP, which will see people benefit from real training in areas where they can be productive. The PEP programme, which was hastily started under the former Douglas-led Administration, under the dark cloud of a Motion of No Confidence, was heavily criticized by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for being poorly organized, where out of over four thousand persons enrolled on the programme, only about one hundred and thirty (130) had received any real training. It was not value for money. The programme also came in for serious scrutiny from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that said that the programme, which was supposed to be only a short-term training programme, was hemorrhaging the public purse. The IMF shared its concerns that such a programme was not fiscally sustainable and that people being trained on the short-term programme should find productive work or set up their own businesses to contribute to the productive sector, the engine of growth.

The PEP commenced in December, 2012.  According to Prime Minister Harris, “PEP has been funded to the tune of EC$ 196,203,733.88. Of this amount, $193,368,347.06 came from the SIDF (Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation) and $2.7 million from the Federal Government, and remainder from interest and other income.”

On August 31, 2016, a team from the PEP Office headed by Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister charged with the responsibility for PEP, Mr. Osbert DeSuza, met with a team from the National Skills Training Institute, with its director, Mrs. June James. The management of the PEP recognizes that the National Skills Training Programme’s quick response to training needs has made it the most dynamic and flexible vocational programme of the Government in St. Kitts and Nevis. The NSTP offers non-formal, flexible, short term training. It facilitates training for a wide cross-section of the population, from school dropouts to professionals.

Additionally, on September 01, a meeting was held with the TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) Secretariat, the National Skills Training Institute and the PEP Department, where Dr. Neva Pemberton, Coordinator for the CDB (Caribbean Development Bank) funded TVET intervention (which has a PEP component), in giving consultancy service, discussed a review of the terms of reference for the PEP. A decision was made to reactivate and reenergize the PEP Oversight Committee, taking on board partners and stakeholders in the process.

The next meeting of the PEP, TVET Secretariat and National Training Institute will take place on September 07, 2016. After that meeting interviews for PEP trainees will commence.

In the most recent development, all trainees based at the Newtown Community Center were informed on September 1 that they will finally be assigned where their skills can be better utilized within the workforce. The trainees were also informed that they will continue to receive their stipends.

For more than three years, the trainees have been involved in areas including cosmetology, office management and computer graphics. The courses were intended to be short-term.

According to Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Mr. Osbert DeSuza, an extensive evaluation of the programme at the Newtown Community Center has been completed and all the trainees will be placed on internship. Seventeen (17) of the trainees from the Newtown Community Center, who received training in Cosmetology, have since been assigned to cosmetology businesses.

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