Cuba’s Reforms Shift Focus to Training Skilled Workers

Cuba's Reforms Shift Focus to Training Skilled Workers

09 / 22 / 2012

Cuba is working to increase the number of skilled workers in traditional

areas like construction and .

His carpenter's certificate has made Antonio Tejero into a passionate

champion of the trades, because, he says, he works "directly for

society." That attitude is in line with the government's plan to

more technicians and skilled workers to give a boost to the .

"People who work in carpentry and construction are always needed," says

Tejero, 24, who is also trained as an accountant's assistant. "But the

traditions of many of these trades have been lost," he commented to IPS.

The need for skilled workers is why the Ministry is

prioritising technical and professional training during the new

year that began this month. More than 55 percent of the last group of

students who graduated from secondary school enrolled in polytechnic

institutes and trade schools.

Those who earn their certificates will contribute to the "economic and

social development" of their communities, Education Minister Ena Elsa

Velásquez told local reporters.

The reorientation toward vocational skills training is one of the main

changes underway in the country's education system, in line with the

economic reforms that the government of Raúl Castro has been

implementing since 2007. Other changes include a more rational use of

resources, bolstering teaching staff and encouraging students to go into

the sciences that will contribute to productive growth.

Higher enrolment and more skills training in vocational education are

part of the changes that are being made with a view to a new economic

horizon. According to a report made available to foreign correspondents

in Havana, priority is being placed on education in areas such as

agriculture, construction, accounting and rail .

The report, which was presented by Enia Rosa Torres, advisor to the

education minister, says that the goal is to "ensure an adequate

education pyramid." This structure has a "base" formed by a "larger

number of skilled workers," followed by a smaller group of technicians,

and topped by a yet smaller number of engineers.

Many Cuban families hold on to the dream of their children earning

degrees, even though the economic crisis in which the country

has been sunk for the last two decades drove down wages in the state

sector, which still accounts for most jobs and employs most of the

Cubans who have higher education, although the current reforms involve

cutting hundreds of thousands of jobs from the bloated public payroll.

During the most difficult period, people with medical, teaching and

other university degrees migrated to other areas such as and

self-employment. Others alternated work in their professions with other

occupations, some without permits, to increase their income and meet

their needs.

That is why young people such as Thalía del Sol, 15, who is training to

be an accountant's assistant in Havana, say that university is "very

difficult," and that they are eager to be done with school and begin

working as soon as possible.

"I began (my training) because I was enthused, and then I liked it. I

hope that I can make a living from my profession," she told IPS.

During the 2008-2009 school year, more students graduated from

university than from technical and trade schools, a tendency that

continued in the 2010-2011 school year, with 85,757 university graduates

and 71,353 vocational graduates, according to the National Office of

Statistics and Information (ONEI).

However, a larger labour force is needed for increasing production,

especially of , and to revive industry. In fact, experts say that

Cuba's workforce needs to be redistributed.

In 2008, just 39 percent of workers were employed in the production of

goods and the rest worked in services, according to the ONEI.

Centres of development such as the petrochemical complex in Cienfuegos

province, about 250 km from Havana, include training for young people.

This mega-project is focused on the modernisation of an oil refinery

that is currently processing 65,000 barrels of crude daily. The goal is

to increase that figure to 150,000 barrels daily.

The Camilo Cienfuegos complex, which includes the participation of

Venezuelan and Chinese capital, received an influx of 119 newly-trained

technicians in December 2011. In three and a half years, the "5 de

Septiembre" local institute trained the first group specialised in

different areas of technology related to oil processing and mechanics.

Internationally, the "idea of re-primarisation (a return to the primary

economy) is increasingly gaining ground, supported basically by

tendencies toward higher food and raw materials prices," says researcher

Juan Triana in his article "Cuba: la economía del conocimiento y el

desarrollo" (Cuba, the economy of knowledge and development).

Triana holds that Cuba could advance successfully along this path if it

is able to combine "the advantages being offered by the market with

those that have been acquired by the country throughout all these

years." His recommendations include adding Cuba's "highly-educated

workforce" to traditional production systems, such as agriculture.

Along with an increasing focus by secondary school career guidance

counsellors on the trades, technical and professional education,

authorities are increasing work-experience hours in 4,523

workplace-based classrooms. This way, students update their academic

knowledge and abilities.

Despite these strategies, during the 2011-2012 school year, 4,778 job

vacancies for skilled workers went unfilled, as did 800 positions for

trained technicians, according to local press reports.

Nevertheless, 60,609 students enrolled in vocational training, a leap

from the 2,077 who did so three years ago.

Denise Morales, an agronomy student, said that she, like many, chose

vocational training as a path to university. "This way, I will be more

prepared" when enrolling in university, she told IPS. "I'm very sure

that I want to be an agronomist," said the16-year-old from Mayabeque

province, which borders Havana.

Source: IPS

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