Overall unemployment dropped Minister De Weever: “We can build St. Maarten together”

POSTED: 09/10/13 2:22 PM

St. Maarten – The overall employment on St. Maarten has dropped as well as that of the youth, Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Cornelius de Weever said in a speech at the Laying the Foundation presentation at the Dutch Quarter Community Center yesterday afternoon. “While the official results are not yet released, efforts mentioned to improve the labor market situation have paid off and is paying off.”

According to the minister St. Maarten is on its way back but still not there. “We must make sure that all who are able to work can do so.”

The Laying the Foundation presentation focused on the overall unemployment among youngsters and adults and on getting them back to work by “building St. Maarten together.”

A presentation by representatives of the Departments of Labor Affairs and Social Services showed the new approach by introducing job placement officers into the system. Some of the tasks of these officers are; assessing unemployed people, preparing them for the labor market, sourcing viable vacancies, mediate when placement is achieved and maintaining relationships with stakeholders. Three officers are currently working to help around 120 people find a job.

Besides these officers, social workers and job coaches are working side by side to get as many people back to work and to contribute to the country. “These departments have already been working along this new approach for the past 18 months, and the results from a social services and labor market point of view have been satisfactory,” the minister said. “Linking the work of our job placement officers with the job coach and with our social workers as well as third party caregivers, remains front and center on how these departments help addressing unemployment in St. Maarten.”

He added that besides this approach, the Employability Through Training program has also his full support as this project was designed to help youngsters gain the necessary social and other skills sets required to be employed. The minister said that it is important to note that key stakeholders from the business community are still lingering behind in showing their support.

After a recent visit to Bonaire the minister also wants to introduce a so-called one-stop shop for work permits and residency papers; he looked at this during his visit, and is now awaiting the approval from the minister of justice. “When I took office in 2011, the overall unemployment rate was 12.2 percent and that of youth unemployment was 29.4 percent. There were many complaints about young locals not been able to get jobs, as well as employers who complained that the process to get an employment permit was like pulling teeth and taking too long,” the minister pointed out. “This process has since improved dramatically, with a turnaround time of less than 6 weeks for employment permits.”

This process, the minister said, has been directly tied to ensuring that local Dutch nationals get the first opportunities for the jobs that are earmarked for foreign labor. He said that the push in this direction will further be enhanced with the phased implementation of the counterpart article-10 of the National Ordinance Foreign Labor. “I encourage equal opportunity employers and discourage discriminatory hiring practices. By putting our people first we can build St. Maarten together.”

The ministry, through the department of labor, recently has introduced the Labor Market Information System (LMIS). The data gathered through this system will serve as the basis to align policies and legislation with the reality the people face in their lives as it pertains to the labor market. According to Minister De Weever it is imperative that they take into consideration the impact of the French citizens who are employed on the Dutch side because time, legislation, policies and procedures overlook this fact.

The minister also recognizes that the people suffer because job placement agencies are unregulated, and for the most part operate under the umbrella of an ‘employment permit agency’, and short term labor contracts continue to be used. “I have stated before, and will continue to do so, without the collaborative effort by all, the poverty cycle of my people, and the labor market situation will and cannot be adequately addressed.”

The minister further stated in his speech that the Chamber of Commerce and the SHTA should be a partner and use their businesses and hotels during the off season to train students after working with the schools like Sundial to ensure proper curriculum. The Chamber and the SHTA should partner up to ensure that the schools are preparing the students for the work force to such a standard that the need for work permits will decrease.

Make properties and business available during the off season so that students have a ‘real’ working experience that they can highlight in their resumes, the minister suggested. “Each student learns how to clean a room, make a bed, answer a phone and book a reservation, check in guests, be a bell man instead of using security guards and provide service to the guests in our tourism industry. A dollar a day can take us very far when we put our money in the right places,” the minister added.

Besides the minister’s speech, several other speeches were given by the Prime Minister of St. Maarten Sarah Wescot-Williams, who stressed the importance of the youth in the labor market, as well as Ameera Groeneveldt who told the people her success story by having the right attitude and the motivation and determination. “People don’t have to be discouraged after being unemployed for a while and thinking that they’re not good enough.  They can take things in own hands and start a business to contribute to the island and creating jobs,” Groeneveldt said.

William Welch and Mischulaikah Richardson of the Dare to Dream Foundation encouraged the people to turn their dreams into reality by saying “dare to dream” and with “dedication and a good look your dreams can come true.” Richardson said that the foundation is launching, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labor, the ‘St. Maarten own entrepreneurs’ where they will visit students in their last two school years to visualize their dreams and explain them how to be successful and how to live their dreams.

Saskia Kliphuis of the Ministry of Education explained how youngsters who graduate are being prepared for the labor market and how adults are being re-trained through the National Institute for Professional Advancement. The institute, which is currently being built and is said to be ready in December, will have a capacity for 200-500 youngsters and adults who want to develop themselves in the fields of administration, care, hospitality, technique, maritime, boat engineer and  ICT.

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