The distinguished economist, mi bredren Vanus and two of his collaborators—one in economics on the global campus, the other in economics and statistics—have assembled data from the CSO and international sources on economic development in the country and produced analyses that are more than sobering. The conclusions are sobering for Trinidad and even more sobering for Tobago.
They focus on labour market conditions in the two islands, including trends in labour productivity and GDP per capita. Their analyses are informed by, but update, the insights of earlier theories developed by Nobel Laureate Arthur Lewis and economists Lloyd Best, Kari Levitt, and Eric St Cyr. They come in a chapter of a book that will soon see the light of day.
I focus, in this column, on section 2 of the chapter entitled ‘Labour Market Conditions, Labour Productivity and GDP per capita’ and, while the data provide descriptions of the state of affairs of the whole country, as well as comparisons between Tobago and Trinidad, I will pay more attention here to the national situation. The information will essentially relate to the year 2022 and the second quarter of 2023 (abbreviated to 2023Q2) and I will focus more on the educational characteristics of the labour force after outlining the labour force statistics.
In 2022, there were 594,600 people in the national labour market, with 32,000 or five per cent living in Tobago and 562,600 or 95 per cent working in Trinidad. By the end of 2023Q2, the national labour force had increased by 1.3 per cent to 602,500, with the labour force in Tobago declining by one per cent to 31,700, but the labour force in Trinidad increasing by 1.5 per cent to 570,800.
By the end of 2023Q2, total jobs in Tobago were 31,000, a loss of 200 jobs or just under one per cent, and the island’s share of total jobs had declined to five per cent. On the other hand, total jobs in Trinidad had increased by 2.2 per cent to 545,700, corresponding to an increase in the island’s share to 95 per cent. The national employment rate had increased modestly to 95.72 per cent of the labour force, that of Tobago had remained virtually the same at 98 per cent, and that of Trinidad had increased to 95.6 per cent. Further, from 2022, three per cent of the nation’s unemployed lived in Tobago and 97 per cent lived in Trinidad.
The decline of the labour force and the decline in the number of jobs in Tobago reflect the fact that while Tobago was losing jobs, Trinidad was creating new jobs. Accordingly, in the absence of new job creation in Tobago, people who cannot find employment in Tobago have been migrating to Trinidad and elsewhere to share in better job prospects created there.
So there are high levels of employment in both islands, which must be a good thing. But what about the quality of the jobs? Let’s see what the data say.
The data show the following at the end of 2022. About 12 per cent of the national labour force had received no better than primary education, and another 25.4 per cent had received secondary education with some supplementary training but had passed no subjects.
The data further show that, at the end of 2023Q2, the share with no better than primary education had increased to about 15 per cent and the share with only secondary exposure plus training had marginally increased to 25.8 per cent.
These are workers with level 1 skills as defined by the ILO. (Skill levels are determined by the ILO.) So, overall, at the end of 2023Q2, about 40 per cent of the national labour force were inadequately educated to support development of high-technology capital production in the national production system, a significant increase from 37.4 per cent at the end of 2022.
At the end of 2022, 18.4 per cent of the national labour force had received secondary education with one to four passes, some supplemented by additional training. A further 17.9 per cent had received secondary education with five or more passes, sometimes supplemented by further training. By the end of 2023Q2, the share with secondary education and one to four passes plus training was still at 18.3 per cent, and a slightly smaller share of 17.4 per cent had received secondary education with five or more passes, some with additional training.
In general then, by the end of 2023Q2, only about 36.0 per cent of the labour force had received reasonable education, marginally down from the 36.3 per cent at the end of 2022. Such workers could undertake work requiring ILO-defined level 2 skills, such as clerical work, service and sales work, craft and related work, and work in plant and machinery assembly and operation.
Overall then, by the end of 2023Q2, 76 per cent of the national workforce still had insufficient knowledge and skills to support development of high-technology capital output that could bring winning solutions to problems thrown up in export markets. This fact should be alarming.
The matter is even more alarming when we add the fact that, at the end of 2022, only approximately 139,900 people or 24 per cent of the national labour force had tertiary training resulting in certificates, diplomas, and university degrees, and the further fact that, by the end of 2023Q2, this number had declined to 130,000 or about 22 per cent of the labour force.
The lack of growth in the numbers of such workers should be a matter of concern to policymakers, since this is the group with ILO-defined level 3 and 4 education and training that embodies much of the national capacity to lead the upgrade of governance, the development of high-tech capital service industries, and the innovation process, all of which underlie productivity growth.
I should point out the data on education directly contradict the Finance Minister’s revelation in the Budget Statement that the education system is producing a workforce that is adequately educated to support the transformation of T&T into a modern knowledge-based economy.
To be continued.
Winford James is a retired UWI lecturer who has been analysing issues in education, language, development, and politics in T&T and the wider Caribbean on radio and TV since the 1970s. He has also written thousands of columns for all the major newspapers in the country. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org