You are here:

Community Perceptions of Workforce Skills in the Caribbean

Written by Robert W. Robertson, PhD and Peter Paul, PhD |

Rotary International identifies a monthly theme that provides a focus for club and individual Rotarian activities during that period. January is identified as vocational service month. Rotary has consistently supported “vocational service at the core of Rotary, embedded in its history, present and future. It calls on us to foster high ethical standards in business, recognize the value of all occupations, and dignify our occupations as an opportunity to serve our communities. By including men and women from diverse professions and backgrounds, Rotary recognizes the importance of all skills and occupations and encourages our members to leverage their skills and expertise to enhance communities” (Rotary International, n.d.).

Specifically, Rotary encourages all Rotarians to: “use your skills and expertise to serve a community; mentoring young people to help achieve their career goals; offering leadership and professional development guidance to others; and, practicing your profession with integrity and inspiring others to do so (Rotarian, n.d.).

On a practical level, the District 7020 Governor (Deborah Howell) approved a survey of Rotarians as a preliminary step in assessing members. The survey was circulated by email and eighty complete responses were received from eight of the eleven countries in the region. The largest number of responses were from the Cayman Islands (27) the Bahamas (22) and Jamaica (8).


Essentially, the survey was designed to assess the skills gap across the region. The OECD describes the skills gap as a critical concern for companies and countries. “For decades, the global economy has been placing an ever-increasing premium on knowledge and skills. An inevitable consequence of the shift is a growing gap between the need for talent and the number of people who have what it takes to thrive today and in the workplace of the future” (OECD, 2021). In addition, the European Union has declared 2023 as the “European Year of  Skills”. Key points from the EU include 77% of EU companies report difficulties in finding workers with the necessary skills; 20 million ICT specialists should be employed in the EU by 2030; and 60% of adults should participate in training every year by 2030” (European Commission, 2022).

In the Caribbean, the Chancellor at the University of the West Indies has stated that ” the Caribbean region has a skills gap crisis that must be addressed to lay the foundation for economic and social growth” (Caribbean Employment Services Inc,  2021).   

The current survey was designed to provide a preliminary assessment of the perception and understanding of Rotary members as key community leaders in their respective countries with respect to the skills gap in District 7020. After the survey twelve respondents participated in semi-structured interviews to provide more details on their responses.

Of the eighty survey respondents 20% represented the financial and insurance sector; 14% education; 9% information and communication; 9% human health and social work and 5% business services. 19% identified as other, including retired.   

The majority of respondents (80%) stated that their organization/ company has been in existence for ten years or more and 8% noted that they were in existence for 7-9 years. Thirty percent of respondents stated that they had 100 or more employees in their organization/ company, whereas 27% were less than ten years old. The majority of respondents, 78%, identified as a senior manager or manager. 

In terms of the question as to the ability to recruit employees in (y)our country that meet our needs respondents were evenly split with 43% either agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement and 41 % either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing. Also, most respondents either agreed or strongly agreed (51%) with the statement that the organization/ company was able to retain employees; whereas 28% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. 

A majority of respondents, 40% agreed or strongly agreed that their organization was active in developing employee needs assessment and only 26 % disagreed. Most respondents (40%) noted that their organization had a detailed employee training plan with only 28% in disagreement. Many respondents stated that the workforce in their country was not globally competitive (43 %); whereas 35% stated that their workforce was globally competitive. Some interview respondents identified the increasingly global nature of the economy and the need for the regional workforce to keep up with growing trends such as digitization. 

Most respondents (51%) note that lower literacy and numeracy skills of candidates represents challenges in hiring appropriately qualified candidates. Interview respondents noted a need to develop internal training to bring some new recruits up to a suitable standard.

In terms of the top three challenges facing business with respect to local recruitment of employees’ respondents noted: limited qualified pool of candidates; and a lack of job-ready skills such as soft skills; and IT skills. Interview respondents suggested that many new employees simply lack the understanding of how the workplace functions. Basic issues such as time management and working with internal and external customers were viewed as problematic.

In ranking the need to improve skills to match employer needs respondents identified (in rank order) a need for more on the job opportunities; a need for more career mentoring; more understanding by educators of private sector needs and more skills training in schools. Interview respondents suggested that many—notably larger—firms have resolved to initiate their own training projects adapted to their individual needs as opposed to reliance on the traditional public education system.

Current skills gaps noted in the survey include the attitude of prospective employees, communication skills and certified skills to validate competency. On this latter point interview results confirm the importance of industry recognized, professional certifications to confirm competency notably in technical and vocational areas but also in the trades. A number of interview respondents noted the need for a formal apprenticeship system.

Future skills gaps identified by respondents included Information Communication and Technology (ICT), soft skills including aptitude and trade and vocational skills. Interview respondents identified a need for a more partnership-oriented approach to clearly identify and address emerging skills gaps. Also, having pathways for high school students was seen as an important way to build skills over time.

Finally, 64% of respondents stated that the global pandemic has exacerbated the skills gap concerns. Interview respondents stated that there was an immediate need to quickly consider strategic methods to recognize and respond to this concern. Interviewees noted the need for better timely labour market data as a first step in addressing this growing concern.

Research has demonstrated that highly skilled workers tend to benefit the most from new technologies and this trend further widens the gap between those who are upwardly mobile and those who may lag behind over the medium – to – long term. (United Nations, 2020). Unless targeted upskilling and workforce development that aligns training and industry demand is made widely available and supported the negative social and economic impacts on the economy will be further exacerbated. 


In summary, many Rotarians are aware of the skills gap and the importance of addressing the dynamic nature of training to build a resilient Caribbean regional economy. Developing a data base to understand the regional skills gap can serve as one step in assisting in addressing the issue.

Rotary International understands the importance of developing and supporting skills and this understanding is evident in the establishment of a vocation month to focus attention on the topic. Also, Rotary has been an active supporter of vocational and skills development through specific actions such as scholarships, assisting with internships and mentoring students and similar initiatives. As an example, District 7020 provided considerable financial support to education in the Bahamas post-Dorian. This assistance was specifically directed to job- ready skills in the most impacted areas of Abaco and Grand Bahama. 

A continued focus by stakeholders including the education sector, governments, businesses and Rotarians on the importance of vocational skills can assist in systematically closing the Caribbean skills gap. Some areas that can be impactful in planning policy responses include collecting robust regional labour market data to assist with decision making, aligning resources to high growth sectors and supporting “learning while learning” models of skills development. Such targeted initiatives will go far in addressing the skills gaps and building more resilient economies in the Caribbean.  

About the authors

Robert W. Robertson is President and Chief Executive Officer, University College of the Cayman Islands and Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

Peter Paul is Special Projects Officer, University College of the Cayman Islands



Caribbean Employment Services Inc (2021) UWI Official Calls for Skills Gap ‘Crisis’ in the Caribbean to be Addressed,

European Commission (2022) European Year of Skills 2023

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2021) Human Work, the Global Talent Gap, and the Future of Democracy, OECD,

Rotary International (n.d.)

United Nations (2020), World Social Report 2020: Inequality in a Rapidly Changing World,