Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why a Skills Bank Wouldn't Work

In an email a few months ago, a reader brought up an idea that many professionals have had, which is to establish a skills bank of Jamaican abroad that businesses and government agencies in Jamaica could use.

The idea is repeated in an article by Ricky Singh in today's Sunday Observer in which he says:

Strengthening the dialogue with Community nationals of the Diaspora located across the USA, especially in major centres like New York and Washington, undoubtedly holds promise for mutual benefits, particularly, it is felt, if pursued within the context of clearly defined policies and programmes. This may require having some basic data on the size, talents and resources of the Diaspora community.

Question is, for all the "ole talk" by Caricom government leaders ... there is an absence of evidence that any concrete initiative has been undertaken to establish what is recognised to be a valuable tool - skills data bank.
The argument by advocates of a skills data bank to include valuable human resource located among nationals of the Caribbean Diaspora in North America and the UK, is that it is essential to better mobilise much-needed skills in, for example, the health and education sectors in the member states of our 15-member Community.
On the surface, it seems to be a good idea.

In my reply to the reader who repeated the idea, I had an insight -- the reasons why a skills bank does not work can be overcome by technology that has only recently been invented, and is being widely used -- Facebook.

The reason why a list of people and their skills doesn't work is that no-one actually does business by calling professionals from a list, unless they are desperate. Here in the Caribbean, as in most countries, the first place that people look to find expertise is among a current network of contacts -- family, friends and colleagues.

It's just a better idea to find the person you want by asking around the people you know, to find out who they might know. A personal referral trumps a name on a list any day.

If, instead of having to make ten phone calls, you had a way to search all your friends' network to find out who they know and trust, and you could do this search efficiently, while they are sleeping, you would use it often.

Facebook happens to be an excellent tool for just that purpose.

The difference between a raw list of names and skills, and a social networking site is the network of people and their connections that brings a name on a page into relief.

I suggested to the reader that she join Facebook and she said that she's not really into that kind of thing. Many professionals aren't, but it's a guarantee that those who are reluctant to use networking tools will never become more than a name on a page.

The fact is, Facebook is already becoming the only skills bank of its kind -- there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The typical arguments that people have against joining -- not having enough time or wanting privacy -- are the very same reasons a "skills bank" won't work.

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At 6/15/2008 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The professional version of Facebook is LinkedIn. This is exactly what the e-mailing individual wants.


At 6/15/2008 3:04 PM, Blogger fwade said...

One big difference between US and the Caribbean is that there is a deep blend here between professional and personal connections

I have been a member of LinkedIn for years, but it doesn't compare with the interest or participation that Facebook has generated in the 12 months I have been a member.

I find myself using LinkedIn to communicate with American colleagues, primarily, and Facebook for those who are local/Caribbean.

I remember smiling the other day when an expat who is moving here was saying that she didn't like to mix the two... here in the Caribbean, it's just about impossible... and now that I am here, I don't miss the American "professional distance."

At 6/15/2008 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your personal friends and family almost never make the best business associates. You and your cousin go into business together, he fucks up and the business tanks. Makes for happy family gatherings, no?

You need your house renovated, and there is an old artisan you know of that does excellent work, but you can't hire him because your uncle is a renovator of middling capabilities and would be offended.

Jamaicans themselves bitch about the government being run like an old boy's network instead of a meritocracy. Can't have it both ways Francis.

Perhaps this is a liability more than a benefit. The best person for the job is the best person for the job, not just the guy you know from the neighbourhood.


At 6/16/2008 7:49 AM, Blogger fwade said...


I happen to be launching an e-book on networking in the Caribbean this week Friday (coincidentally.)

You are right of course, and the examples you gave happen all the time.

Picking someone just because they are "connected" is a bad policy, AND someone who has a bigger network that includes their friend's friends as well as their own can make better choices because they can more easily find good people.

Stay tuned for more info on the book or visit

At 6/18/2008 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am also a fan of facebook. The difference, however, is that I view facebook as a tool that extends beyond marketing and networking.
The material on facebook is technically copyrightable ( according to U.S. law). An owner of a page, therefore, has property rights in the facebook product. Granted, these will likely never be used, but I do think itis important to emphasize all types of property ownership. Facebook page creators ow intellectual property This concept can benreally empowering. (FYI- facebok's privacy rights are horrible.)
In any event, I think a skills bank could be a good thing, if only because those who would choose to be a part have defied themselves as a set of people interested in working and being a part of that community. I believe only a certain type of person would actually go through and register for such a program--hence, I don't think it is swuch a bad thing. I do think, however, with all the issues Jamaica has, this might be a "waste-of-time" project.

At 6/22/2008 10:20 AM, Blogger Long said...

The notion that most people in Ja. look first to personal networks to solicit references is accurate. But that happens for two reasons: 1. there are no other seemingly reliable available sources of information. 2. And when the in-network referrals do not pan out, people are left feeling high and dry, and wary of future referrals. However, with few alternatives, they must return to the personal networks.

While I don't take anything coming from these "diaspora groups" with any seriousness, your argument against the skills bank is actually faulty. Skills banks can only work when there is trust and integrity to the process. The more highly resourced, stable personal networks are themselves skills banks. Those are the networks of people who do not depend on professional affiliation, but on their professional status to extend their networks, and to be willing to be included in others.

Skills banks are always in place. The question is whether the ones who manage them are willing to make the criteria clear for one to be able to make a "deposit". For that reason, namely our commitment and reliance on social prejudices and exclusionary tactics as decision-making strategies, its highly unlikely for a skills bank to work in Jamaica.


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