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Life after the recession

Olivia A. Chase

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Though considered morbid by some, I confess that I think quite frequently about the afterlife. Will things be the same? Will we look the same? Will there be milk and honey? Will our modus operandi be as it always was? Yes, I have all these questions because I’m petrified when I think about life after the recession!
Calypso is its own form of historical record and I find it amusing now to listen to calypsonians echo the sentiments of the time about how hard things were and the cost of living. Life then seemed more prosperous, in stark contrast to the present day where we have more money but also more things on which to spend it.
The basilisk that is this recession seems to be matched only by the Great Depression of the 1920s. We cannot make the mistake of sitting idle while hoping to emerge unscathed by this economic downturn. Life after the recession must by prerogative be very different.
It is because of this paradigm change that we must be prepared to make the antecedent changes required to ensure that we are adequately prepared – be that by way of a restructured economy, a more competitive human resource pool, or a combination of the two.
Without intentionally resorting to the obvious, it must still be said that the work must get done through the organization’s human resources.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) refers to “any information concerning the size and composition of the labour market or any part of the labour market, the way it or any part of it function, its problems, the opportunities which may be available to it, and the employment-related intention or aspiration of those who are part of it”.
The labour component is always in sharp focus when examining the issue of productivity. The budget allocated to salaries tends to be the most significant part of a company’s operating expenses. How do we ensure that the investment we make in our staff is returned to the company through productivity, profitability and growth?
Have we given thought to the structure of the economy we would wish to have and how our human resources would contribute to the actualization of this vision? Let us use the manufacturing sector as the basis for our example.
At the level of policy, it must be determined whether Barbados will have a wide subsector of manufacturing enterprises or a selected few areas.
It is obvious that if, for example, we wish to see a robust manufacturing sector in 2025, we should start now by examining the content of our training programmes at our technical institutions ensuring that we infuse competitive skill, innovation and entrepreneurship as core components of these programmes.
At the end of these programmes, graduates should reflect a high degree of excellence that was honed through continuous opportunities for apprenticeship in manufacturing plants across the country. The labour market ought to be able to absorb these graduates by offering enough opportunities for employment and self-employment.
The financial and venture capitalists should be structured to facilitate investment in viable businesses in a seamless yet prudent way that gives them the platform to success and then enables them to succeed.
On the more structured side of labour-market planning, formal assessments of how our public and private sector organizations are designed need to be conducted. This audit or assessment would lead to a diagnosis of the organization’s capacity for leadership, management and operations. This happens at the strategic level.
Of course some examination must be conducted to determine whether there are any “square pegs in round holes” that need to be rectified through reassignment, realignment, and process improvement. Of course this leads to an increase in productivity by way of value-added, efficiency and profitability.
The parameters of a human resources audit may potentially include
• A review of numbers of staff and corresponding job descriptions.
• A review of the organization skill and talent pool (qualifications; job skills).
• An assessment of human resource functionaries in the department or ministry.
• An examination of any link between current training initiatives vis-à-vis future organization skill requirements.
• A determination of how organizations have adopted HR applications and software into their organizations.
Of course there also needs to be quantitative assessment of the labour resources required. Very often, the mistake occurs wherein we identify a critical area but inadvertently end up with surplus involuntarily unemployed labour. Some numerical mechanics must go into determining appropriate areas, numbers, skill sets and so on.
We must gravitate to this type of analysis since as a small country we can ill afford to waste or not maximize the precious resources we have if we are to improve productivity.
So if indeed as a country we have identified upgraded or even new economic opportunities, then we have as a requisite course of action to identify the training, skills and tools that will be required of that labour force to deliver effectively.
As Peter Drucker appropriately puts it, “Long-range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions!”
• Olivia Chase is a senior economist with The Productivity Council.