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Labour in short supply

...decrease in young job seekers, ageing population
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Business Eye

In 1998 I was appointed to serve on the T&T Task Force to eliminate the Common Entrance Examination. I was a representative of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce. The task force was chaired by Mr Clive Pantin. Dr Anna Mahase was one of several other distinguished members. I was in good company. The recommendations of the task force eventually resulted in the establishment of the present SEA examination.



On our first day, we were welcomed by the minister of education and then briefed by a technocrat from the Ministry of Education on the general nature of the problems we were to address. We were all surprised to learn from the technocrat that the number of children 11 years of age writing the 11-plus examination had declined from some 34,000 annually in 1962, to 18,000 in 1996, and was expected to decline further. 


As a result, he suggested that we should not include in our recommendations any substantial increase in secondary school places. He assured us that the figures on which his advice was based were to be found in the national census reports and also, that all children of that age in T&T were included in these reports. “The birth certificates have been written,” he said, to underscore his point. 


This dramatic decline in the fertility rate of the women of child bearing age of T&T to 1.64 births per woman of child bearing age in 2011, is in keeping with the trend being experienced by all developed and developing countries. It explains why our population, after having grown steadily from 99,000 people in 1861, to 1,200,000 in 1990, has remained near to that figure for nearly two decades.   


It is a demographic change which has signalled an end to the current validity of 1979 Nobel prize winner Prof Arthur Lewis’ development model written in 1954, “Economic development with unlimited supplies of labour.” This model served us well at a time when the natural increase of the population of T&T was more than 20,000 annually. 


This increase has now declined to approximately 10,000 annually and will fall further as the mortality rate of our ageing population rises. Our economic planners must face the fact that there are no more unlimited supplies of labour. These demographics are well known to governments past and present, but there is no indication that any policies have been introduced to deal with this oncoming greying of our nation. 



As far as the people of the country are concerned, most of those to whom I have spoken are still of the view that “people making children all over the place.” Some believe that the census figures must omit a large number of undocumented people. If this is so, then these people must be avoiding the education system completely since, according to the census reports, the numbers writing the SEA in any year is always very similar to the number of children born 11 years earlier. 


To bring the facts home, consider that there were 306,217 births registered in the ten years prior to 1990 but only 202,089 in the next decade. A decrease of over 100,000. This is a business column, so we should think of the consequences of this decrease in the numbers of young job seekers in our country and the ageing of our population, as it affects forward planning. A few thoughts for discussion in the new year, together with a few cautious comments. 


• Shops catering to the needs of mothers and infants might find few customers. Medical students might consider specialising in geriatrics rather than paediatrics. 
• Homes for the ageing population should be encouraged with generous Government assistance. This will assure proper care at an affordable price to an increasing number of senior citizens, with fewer children to bear the cost of their care.  
• Government should take a look at whether there is a need for the Children’s Hospital in Couva, that is mentioned now and again, if, of course, they have not done so already. An upgrading of the present facility at Mount Hope and elsewhere might be sufficient. 
• The Ministry of Sport should reexamine its expansion of sports stadia to see if the youth for whom these facilities are being provided will be there to use them. 
• Labour is now in short supply, and the Government should make sure that applicants for jobs meant to alleviate unemployment do not already have jobs elsewhere. In such cases, the Government is merely draining labour from the productive sector. The country needs carpenters, plumbers, masons, electricians, as well as workers in the service industry who are literate and numerate, and all of these workers must be obtained from the shrinking numbers being born. 


All of our Caribbean neighbours are experiencing this drop in fertility as their women choose to have smaller families. The often quoted contributing irreversible factors common to all are increased education for women, improved health care, family planning, and a higher marriage age.    



Everard Medina is a former president of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce.


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