Over 250 local, regional and international representatives from private and public sector organisations, as well as training institutions and civil society groups, are expected to participate in the Skills for the Future Barbados Conference 2014: Build, Innovate, Transform, slated for January 26 to 28, at Hilton Barbados, Needhams Point.

With the expectation that this large body of persons will, at the end, signal their commitment to enhancing the quality, relevance and effectiveness of technical and vocational education and training in Barbados, the planning committee has designed into the conference a number of town hall-styled meetings to elicit practical responses on the requirements of the changing work force and industry in this globalised world.

The brainchild of the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the 2014 conference will no doubt provoke much discussion from training institutions and industry on How can TVET systems achieve the transformation from supply-driven to demand-driven training?; How can TVET institutions work effectively with industry to respond to the rapidly changing 21st century work force; and most importantly, How can Government policy better support this objective?

These are among the several topics tabled for January 27 – 28, following the official opening ceremony on Sunday, January 26, with its pomp and pageantry that includes a flag raising ceremony, an interlude of music from the steel pan orchestra of the Graydon Sealy Secondary School and greetings and well wishes from across the globe.

While Education Minister, Ronald Jones will be the featured speaker at the opening ceremony that starts at 5:30 p.m., his Cabinet colleague, Minister of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, will deliver the closing remarks.

Keynote speaker on that night will be Chief Executive Officer and President of The Association of Community Colleges, Dr. Denise Amyot. A former Deputy Minister in the Canadian Government, Dr. Amyot???s address will centre on the theme of the conference: Build, Innovate Transform.

In a message to conference participants, Chairperson of the Planning Committee and Director of the Higher Education Development Unit (HEDU), Dr. Patrick Rowe, summed up the high expectations of the conference.

???The rate of global change will not allow for irrelevantly trained workers. We cannot afford to be obsolete in a globally competitive market,??? he stated.

He had also earlier noted (at the launch, on January 14) that the conference would not ???just be another academic exercise???, but would aim to foster collaboration between industry partners and stakeholders to determine how best training institutions could meet their needs.

???The drive to train new recruits and interns and mentor them among the brightest and the best within local organisations must become the norm,??? he added, while noting that the culmination of the conference should bring about collaboration on the development of training courses, designed to fit emerging workplace skill-sets.

He also believed that the objective being reinforced with the event is the ultimate benefit of collaboration to the employer – a relevantly trained worker. ???Many training officers will confess to the ???ah hah??? moment followed by a hurried email to the CEO stating ???we must find a place for him/her within the company,?????? he said.

The HEDU Director maintained that key ministries with responsibility for education, labour and industry must work together to constantly improve the dialogue and demand the best product for students. Explaining further, he said: ???The outcomes of this conference are intended to be transformative but industry in Barbados and our training institutions must seize the moment.

???Responding to 21st century demands from industry requires a balance of programme design, the right training for faculty and a supporting policy framework across government sectors.???

Dr. Rowe concluded by expressing the hope that the conference would fully illuminate the myriad questions posed and identify the right partners from training, government and industry to follow through with the necessary systemic changes.

Other issues that will be under the microscope are: Maintaining the right balance in student selection, faculty assignment, programme design and internship is critical: What are the keys to getting it right? and How do modern TVET systems assess the quality and effectiveness of their programmes and monitor the employability of their graduates?

Also likely to command much attention is the discussion that will centre on the potential success of the Competency-Based Training Fund (CBTF), a recently-established facility that will provide grants to employer-driven competency-based training projects.

An eclectic class of industry and academic facilitators will lend ideas to the panels during the two days. These include Dr. Disraeli Hutton, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, Jamaica; Romain Veyan, Greta Hospitality Training, France; Marvin Matamoros, Caterpillar Training, Panama; Peter Laser, Medical Instruments Manufacturing, Germany; Halden Morris, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica; and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, UWI, Cave Hill, Professor Andrew Downes.

A highlight of the conference towards the end will be a provocative presentation by Director of Manufacturing/Operations, Williams Industries, John Francis, as he reviews the current economic situation on the island and the relevance of training and retraining during these times.

The January 26 – 28 conference is in support of the US $20 Million Skills For The Future programme being undertaken by the Government of Barbados and the IDB and expected to run until 2016.


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