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By Steven Williams
If I had a dollar for every time someone from Export Barbados asked about the availability of internationally viable IT skills in Barbados, I could finally afford that long-awaited family vacation. While the question is well-intentioned and crucial for attracting investment, its broad scope makes it difficult to provide a meaningful answer that would serve global business interests. A more targeted question would be: What specialised IT skills are abundant in Barbados that could attract international markets?
The limitations of Academic Certification
Barbados has long prided itself on its educational system. However, a significant disconnect exists between academic certification and the practical requirements of the IT industry. For example, our local university prioritises four-year IT degrees over industry-specific qualifications. These specialised qualifications could not only make graduates immediately employable on an international scale but could also potentially be attained in a matter of months rather than years.
The importance of Vocational Training
This situation raises an important question: Are educational institutions like the University of the West Indies (UWI) and Barbados Community College (BCC) producing enough technology graduates to meet both local and international demands? From a software engineering perspective, most BCC associate degree graduates typically continue their studies at UWI. While this may meet local needs, the number of graduates – certainly not exceeding 100 – is insufficient to attract significant international investment.
Learning from India’s success
In the mid-1980s, India laid the groundwork for its IT policy by establishing educational and training organisations such as the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT) and Aptech. These organisations pioneered IT education, particularly in emerging technologies across various sectors like aviation, hospitality, and hardware networking.
However, it was in the 1990s that the country began to reap the benefits of these investments. Economic liberalisation, the global IT boom, and favourable government policies transformed India from a hub for call centres into the world’s go-to destination for programming outsourcing. This serves as a valuable lesson for Barbados: initial investments in IT and engineering education and policy may take time to yield results, but when they do, the impact can be transformative.
Key points of India’s approach:
1. IT Training Institutes: Organisations like NIIT and Aptech have played a crucial role in offering vocational IT training.
2. Public-Private Partnerships: The Indian government frequently collaborates with private companies to establish training centres and develop industry-aligned curricula.
3. Global Focus: Indian IT education often includes training in soft skills and language proficiency to prepare students for the global job market.
The vision for a
Technology Centre of Excellence in Barbados
To truly establish Barbados as a hub for technological excellence, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, a new Technology Centre of Excellence should focus on four key pillars that align with both global demands and local strengths:
1. Hospitality Tech: With Barbados’ robust tourism industry, a focus on technology solutions for hospitality can provide a competitive edge. Training could include property management systems, customer relationship management software, and emerging technologies like AI for personalised guest experiences.
2. Renewable Energy Tech: As global attention shifts towards sustainable energy solutions, Barbados could become a leader in renewable energy technologies. The centre could offer courses on solar and wind energy management, smart grids, and energy storage solutions.
3. Agritech: Agriculture remains a cornerstone of Barbados’ economy. The centre could provide training in modern farming technologies, such as precision agriculture, drone technology, and sustainable farming practices, to improve yields and reduce environmental impact.
4. CulturalTech: Leveraging Barbados’ rich cultural heritage, this pillar could focus on technologies that help promote and preserve culture. This could encompass digital archiving, virtual museums, and technology solutions for the arts and entertainment sectors.
Government and Private Sector involvement
To bring this vision to life, a collaborative effort between the government and the private sector is crucial. Existing programmes that aim to promote technology and engineering skills could be broadened, and new financial support could be secured through public-private partnerships. This would bolster our domestic competitiveness in both regional and international markets.
The elusive ingredient that has been missing for decades is simple yet profound: self-belief and national determination. While it may sound straightforward, history shows that this is a lesson we have yet to fully grasp. The focus should not be on the general IT skills available in Barbados, but on the specialised skills that we can offer to the global market. By transitioning from academic degrees to competency-based training, Barbados can establish itself as a hub for technology excellence. Now is the opportune moment for us to invest in a Technology Centre of Excellence and make this vision a reality.
Steven Williams is the executive director of Sunisle Technology Solutions and the principal consultant at Data Privacy and Management Advisory Services. He is a former IT advisor to the Government’s Law Review Commission, focusing on the draft Cybercrime bill. He holds an MBA from the University of Durham and is certified as a chief information security officer by the EC Council and as a data protection officer by the Professional Evaluation and Certification Board (PECB).
Steven can be reached at: Mobile: 246-233-0090 Email: [email protected]