CARICOM needs to advance digital skills for workforce at an unprecedented level – PM Mitchell

Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. Keith Mitchell
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Keynote Address by Hon. Dr. Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada and Lead Head of Government responsible for Science and Technology (including ICT) in the Quasi Cabinet, at the launch of the CARICOM Digital Skills Task Force, 15 September 2021

  • CARICOM  Ministers of Government
  • Secretary General, CARICOM – Dr. Carla Barnett
  • Permanent Secretaries and other government officials
  • Heads/Representatives of Regional Institutions/ Organisations
  • Co-Chairs of the CARICOM Digital Skills Task Force – Dr. Barbara Reynolds and Mr. Carlton Samuels, and Members of the CARICOM Digital Skills Task Force
  • Participants in this Opening Ceremony from the ITU, ILO, Caribbean Federation of Workers, our young pan man from Trinidad & Tobago
  • Private Sector Stakeholders and Partners
  • CARICOM Secretariat Team
  • Members of the Media
  • Sisters and brothers, good morning to all

It is my pleasure to be part of today’s launch of the CARICOM Digital Skills Task Force, an important entity as CARICOM continues the march towards digital transformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has commanded our attention for the past 18-months, as governments seek to ensure the collective safety of all nationals.  Through it all, our citizens have shown tremendous resilience and our front-line workers must be commended for the tremendous service they have provided during this challenging period.

Every crisis presents opportunities and this pandemic has caused us to use technology more and place greater value on its critical role in the world today.  Digital transformation is also a concept that is becoming increasingly familiar and is impacting every industry imaginable causing both fear and excitement – excitement in advancing the frontiers of human endeavor and the fear of negative repercussions on jobs and rising inequalities.

The convergence of multiple technologies will radically transform the organisation of economies and how people live and work. It also holds the promise to address CARICOM’s pressing economic and social development challenges amidst a rapidly shifting digital frontier.

Grenada, like many of its CARICOM sisters and brothers, has recognised the need to advance our countries and citizens through the strategic use of digital technologies – and this is evidenced in the plethora of activities being undertaken by each CARICOM Government.

At present, the Government of Grenada is fast-tracking its digital transformation agenda to create a more citizen-centric public service that is capable of delivering more online services. At the same time, we are cognizant of the need to improve the digital literacy of our citizens, allowing them to better capitalise on our improved service delivery platforms. We are rolling out a digital skills programme that will enable them to do just that.

Digital Skills are required across the board, from Agriculture to Creative Industries, Defence to Hospitality, Transport and Tourism– all sectors are reporting the need for digital skills. Therefore, to build and foster the CARICOM digital economy, we must embrace the role of technology and have a digital workforce.

Young people today have a much higher level of education regarding digital skills and competences. While they are often considered “digital natives”, the reality is that the majority do not possess job-relevant digital skills. As a result, jobs requiring Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, mobile app development are going unfilled. We need to change that reality.

According to the Caribbean Development Bank, about 60% of the Region’s population is under the age of 30. Given the prevalence of youth unemployment, the growth potential of the digital economy and skills present an opportunity for tackling this and fostering entrepreneurship.

Colleagues, friends, new ways of working will be a part of the future public service.During the COVID-19 lockdown, the public service shifted, where possible, to remote working and scrambled to find new ways of delivering services digitally. The public service in our respective countries now have the rising challenge of ‘being digital’ rather than ‘going digital’.

Digital technology will also change traditional methods of delivering education.  This is already evident as schools, teachers, parents and students have been forced to adapt to more online learning. There should be greater emphasis on providing every citizen with adaptable digital skills. Changing demands from businesses, consumers, students and communities mean that apprenticeships, vocational qualifications, technical and vocational training and degrees, need to deliver both general and specific digital capabilities that support the evolving nature of the workplace.

We must also encourage a stronger focus on lifelong learning. The rapid evolution of technology has created a continual need for lifelong learning and up-skilling and will help create an economy of adaptable workers who can take on current and future roles.

It is imperative that CARICOM countries agree on an agenda of change for further and higher education that addresses the magnitude of the challenge; and we must re-examine our human, technical and financial investment in science and research.

Sisters and brothers, we are in the midst of theFourth Industrial Revolution which has ushered in extraordinary technological advances, fusing boundaries of physical, digital, and biological worlds to create new paradigms in the way we live, work, and interact.

To become a medium to high growth economy, CARICOM as a whole, needs to advance digital skills for the workforce at an unprecedented level, particularly for low-skilled workers who will otherwise bear the brunt of job vulnerability.

I see a need for a new paradigm in CARICOM foreign policy. CARICOM has friendly working relations with many countries which are regarded as leaders in the area of digital talent and competitiveness. We must use these alliances to actively promote and garner assistance for the CARICOM digital strategy and to enhance the digital skills of our people.  The time is now for us to begin work on a CARICOM digital foreign policy strategy.

The advocacy work being done at the level of Heads of Governments and teams must be replicated across all levels of government and governance to ensure uniformity in our conversations and requests to move CARICOM countries forward in the digital space.

Madame Secretary General of CARICOM, I expect to see many of our proposals to these countries, regarded as digital leaders, reflecting the digital needs of the region.

In closing sisters and brothers, I wish to thank members of the task force for agreeing to serve in such a critical capacity that is likely to have a significant impact on the future of the region. Each of you possess specific competencies and I urge you to harness your various areas of expertise for the greater good of the region and its people. 

I think some of the critical questions will be:

  • How do we develop digital talent in CARICOM? Where should our focus and resources be placed?
  • How do digital skill-building policies and programmes connect to the other critical areas of digital inclusion – broadband internet access and digital devices such as laptops and tablet computers, the unknowns of future technologies and to the larger regional initiative of developing a CARICOM Single ICT space?
  • How do we keep our people motivated in a world where there is perception that their work may no longer be needed?
  • How do we keep ourselves attuned to the many changes?
  • How do engage civil society and small and medium-sized enterprises into this essential conversation?

These are some of the implicit issues, not necessarily in your terms of reference, but with which you must grapple, to help us arrive at a comprehensive, harmonised CARICOM frame of reference on digital skills, as we work towards achieving key sustainable development goals by 2030.

You will have to interrogate how digital transformation has changed the character of many of our priority sectors and provide technical guidance on what schemes and incentives can drive those forward.   

Your work is vitally important to what is envisioned as a ‘human-centred, sustainable and more prosperous digital future’ that requires a whole-of-CARICOM approach and which includes institutions, governments, industry, academia and civil society.

As we launch this digital skills taskforce today, let us commit to making this exciting and necessary journey together. Let us make it possible for our citizens, our young people in particular, to gain the digital skills they need to navigate and succeed in today’s digital economy. In so doing, we can build a CARICOM digital future where no one is left behind.

I thank you.

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