Thu | Dec 12, 2019

Revamp teaching models to drive tech jobs, expert urges

Published:Friday | October 18, 2019 | 12:05 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Ana Romero (left) of CINDE, Costa Rica, has the attention of Phil Fersht (right) of HFS Research; Erica Simmonds (second left), of the Caribbean Maritine University; and Dianne Edwards, president of JAMPRO, during The Future of Work Conference at AC Marriott Hotel in Kingston on Wednesday.

Jamaican schools and universities should overhaul their curricula and teaching methods to build local talent and competence in the emerging fields of software development and robotics, says an expert in automated and artificial intelligence.

Speaking with The Gleaner on Wednesday, Erica Simmons, a Jamaican who resided in the United States but is back as executive director at the Centre for Digital Innovation and Advanced Manufacturing at Caribbean Maritime University, argued that the island was not developing high-value skill sets with technology at a fast enough rate.

“We have got to develop more skills in robotics, which means we have to understand electrical, mechanical, and software systems. We need more capabilities in artificial intelligence and teaching machines. That could be skill-developing systems that have computer vision for automated vehicles,” said Simmons, who was a special presenter at the Future of Work Conference at the AC Marriott Hotel in St Andrew two days ago.

The conference was hosted by the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), as well as the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Simmons, who has worked with German automation company Siemens, American powerhouse Apple, and South Korean technology giant Samsung, commended the regime change in student testing with this year’s introduction of the Primary Exit Profile, a high-school placement exam that focuses more on problem-solving skills, “because we cannot be memorising information”. Rote learning, she said, was slowing Jamaica’s progress in innovation.

NEW-SCHOOL CONCEPTS

“When I was at Siemens, there was this concept we used to carve out a piece of a sector so we could experiment. Jamaica has got to have new-school concepts, new technology, and new teaching concepts. We have to find a way to balance that against the traditional learning environment.

“Tertiary institutions have a great role to play. In parts of the world like China, they direct their education sector. They say, ‘We need engineers, and everybody needs to become an engineer,’ and they put things in place to do that,” Simmons told The Gleaner.

She recommended that Jamaica become a hub for innovative technological knowledge and expertise where universities have the overall responsibility for driving key skill sets.

“If it is skill sets in robotics, we would have a high school attached to that hub. We would have another university that focuses on biology so we can develop biotechnology. We would have that university working with high schools, and we develop these clusters. We need to go deep in these technologies, and that is why one university cannot do it all. What is happening now in our country is what I call an inch deep and a mile wide,” Simmons added.

President of JAMPRO Diane Edwards also told attendees of the conference that the island needed to catch up with technological innovation to successfully navigate the digital future.

Edwards said that the conditions must be set in order to climb the value chain from business process outsourcing (BPO) to a focus on knowledge processing and information technology.

There are approximately 36,000 BPO jobs in Jamaica.

“Manufacturing will face a deficit of 7.9 million tech workers by 2030. The resulting loss in revenue may be as high as US$607.1 billion. The US Bureau of Labour Statistics predicts that in 2020, there will be 1.4 million more software-development jobs than applicants who can fill them,” said Edwards.

“Those figures show the size of the prize. Someone has to fill the skills gap, and what better place to fill it than in our beautiful nearshore island with a highly skilled talent pool?”

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com