It’s taken 12 years, but Fenslie Smith says he’s happy with the vocational offerings being offered this fall at the University College of the Cayman Islands.
As UCCI celebrates its 45th anniversary, Smith, the interim director of UCCI’s technical and vocational education and training programme, is excited about the coming academic school year this fall with TVET classes starting on Sep 7.
“Finally, we are delivering a comprehensive offering of TVET programmes,” he said of the school’s offerings.
For many years, Smith said TVET courses were not emphasized as part of UCCI’s offerings. He said there has been a longstanding societal bias against the technical trades. Cayman parents have typically pushed their children into careers in banking and finance, which are considered more prestigious.
Smith said technical careers have been shown to be lucrative and attitudes are changing. UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee saw a greater need for TVET courses when she took the helm of the university last year.
“Dr. McAfee has been pushing it,” Smith said. “People out there are saying this is something we need.”
“Vocational education is just as much a part of the university’s role as is academic education. Our remit is to provide quality education across the spectrum of employment needs within Cayman,” McAfee said. “Increasingly, adults return to tertiary education for technical and vocational training after they have earned a degree. Others begin their studies with a goal of mastering a technical profession either as a lifelong goal or as the first rung of a career path later progressing into supervisory or alternative careers. Students interested in pursuing vocational professions at any point in their lives should be able to find a home here at UCCI, where we can provide the kinds of courses that will give them the tools they need for success.”
Until a year ago, Wayne Jackson, who is also the director of UCCI’s hospitality programme, directed TVET programme development at UCCI. Jackson, who came to the campus in 2014, said the programme’s course offerings were limited. His initial move was to focus on the areas with the biggest demand for trade workers: electricians, plumbers and air conditioning technicians.
“We used these three main cores as our starting pillars,” Jackson said.
Most classes at the time were being offered during the day. Jackson shifted that schedule to offer more evening classes, since many of the interested students and the adjunct instructors had full-time jobs during the day.
TVET courses have since expanded to cover such subjects as computer repair, Quickbooks, customer service, auto repair and food preparation. There are even academic oriented classes in English as a second language, conversational Spanish, and accounting. Currently, TVET oversees a coding academy in conjunction with Cayman Enterprise City and it has a computer program that is tied in with Cisco Systems.
Additional courses are being planned for the fall based on some of the changes resulting from the COVID-19 shutdown and anticipated needs in the business community going forward.
But the three “pillars” remain.
“Those are the areas where the demand is,” Smith said.
That could change in the future.
“The TVET programme is pushing really hard to have a renewable energy programme,” Smith said. “We want young Caymanians to be equipped, trained and ready for that. What we want to see is a programme that is fully geared toward renewable energy and we want UCCI to be a center of excellence when it comes to renewable energy.”
He said he’d also like to see the programme expand in other areas.
“Technology is going to play a major role and it would be good for Cayman to get into that market,” he said.
Recent discussions among business leaders and economists have suggested there could likely be changes in Cayman’s palette of industries, including such things as agriculture and alternative energy systems. Both Smith and Jackson said the TVET program is poised to adapt to those changes.
“We have to get our TVET programme to be futuristic and anticipating the needs of the market,” Jackson said.
Such flexibility was necessary this spring when all of UCCI’s courses went online due to restrictions put in place to combat the coronavirus. Instructors used a variety of platforms to present course material in a virtual setting.
The university is continuing to work on effective ways of engaging TVET students online, on campus and on the job, with partnering employers, as the restrictions are eased.
Still, the experience opened Jackson’s eyes to possibilities beyond Cayman’s borders.
“We can be ready to serve our local market and look at some international opportunities as well,” he said.
Smith hopes to improve on those opportunities by making sure the training UCCI’s TVET students are receiving is being recognized beyond Cayman. He is seeking accreditation from three international agencies -- one Caribbean based, one in the United Kingdom and a third in the United States -- for trade courses. Such accreditation would increase the standing of programme graduates and provide them with certificates recognized in other countries.
It might also help in further relieving the stigma the TVET programme has had to battle. While attitudes are changing, Smith said, there remains an inherent bias against blue-collar trades.
“One of the biggest hindrances to TVET is a lack of public education,” Smith said. While working at a bank or in a legal firm is considered more prestigious, he added, “the truth is, these guys in TVET earn a lot more than those jobs and enjoy the benefits of a career that allows them to flourish doing work that they enjoy.”
There are also more opportunities for such workers to start their own businesses, he said, adding that it is also a way to meet Cayman’s job needs.
“I want people to know that TVET is very, very important to the driving of the economy,” he said, noting that the program can help train Caymanians for jobs that are being filled by permit holders. He believes the TVET programme can make a major impact on Cayman’s unemployment rate.
President McAfee said she wants prospective students to see the TVET programme as a first step to a satisfying career.
“Students can begin their studies with a goal of mastering a technical profession,” she said, “either as a lifelong goal or as the first rung of a career path later progressing into supervisory or alternative careers. It really is the start of a journey that can offer all kinds of opportunities.”
TVET courses range from seven weeks to three semesters. For Fall 2020 course schedule visit: www.ucci.edu.ky The application deadline for new students is Aug. 14. Register by Aug 28. TVET classes start on Sep 7. Interested persons are asked to contact our admissions team at Admissions@ucci.edu.ky or call +1 (345) 623 8224 for additional information.