New Horizons Skills Centre – a gateway for “unemployable” people to the labour market
Chris Patrick Stanford is proud of his job as a welder in the Engineering Department of the New Horizons Skills Centre in Spanish Town, St. Catherine.
A graduate of the institution, Stanford credits the skills centre for changing his life. He is one of some 300 youngsters who have received training from the centre over the past six years.
The institution is based in Wynter’s Pen, a tough inner-city community of Spanish Town, with very few opportunities for employment. Developing from its origin of a boys’ home, the centre started in 2006 offering programmes, such as electrical installation, general construction, masonry, aquaponics, plumbing, solar electric and heating technology, welding, and most recently, social enterprise.
A year after the programmes started, Hurricane Dean destroyed the skills centre. In the aftermath, the centre operated in a makeshift structure that could not accommodate training equipment and machinery for quality training. Funded by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) with a US$450,000 grant from the Bank’s Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) – a -sub-programme of CDB’s Special Development Fund –, a new training building was constructed in 2013, executed by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund.
Stanford described his nine months of training at the centre as invaluable. He was even more delighted to have received permanent employment with the institution upon completion of his training.
He explained that upon leaving high school, he was placed on a number of waiting lists for acceptance to several engineering schools. He was afforded the opportunity to attend the New Horizons Skills Centre and he said, “it changed my life.”
At the New Horizons Skills Centre, persons as young as age 16 are accepted into training, helping them to acquire life skills and a trade. While the training is opened to the community, during the day you will find mostly males there. Both genders train at night.
The centre is the only option for people living in the neighbourhood to get training. The next closest training facility is some 15 km or two taxi rides away, which translates into the students paying some US$360 for transportation monthly – very costly for young people.
In recent years, the institution has added a new dimension, the production and servicing of machines, which is providing employment for some graduates.
Explaining this transition, the head of New Horizons, Michael Barnett says that having provided training for the young people over a number of years, he realised that they were able to use their skills to do more. They were trained to take on engineering projects and they learnt how to build and service the equipment.
This filled a business niche as well as provided employment for some of the graduates, such as Stanford. Prior to this venture many struggled to get jobs as they were seen as not having the requisite experience, or because their address was viewed unfavourably.
The centre is now partnering with Shavout International Holding Company Ltd, a local company that produces naturally grown produce and agriproducts and exports to over 15 countries.
In 2015, the major building on the property was transformed into a small factory. The employees are mostly past students who undertake the tea-processing and agro-processing of materials for tea powders, spices, and castor oil. Within months of start-up, the company won the Bold Leader Award, a Jamaican business prize, and this winning streak has continued.
“The partnership between the skills centre and a social company is a holistic model to bring young persons into the labour market. Coming from an area with a bad reputation, opportunities to work are scarce for these young persons even after training. At New Horizons, trainees build a CV already on the training and become employable elsewhere,” says BNTF Portfolio Manager at CDB, George Yearwood.
Barnett emphasises how impactful the project has been on the community noting that “the maintenance manager; the technicians; and all the machine operators are past students of the institution. He says that without the training many of them could have been without a job.
The factory has employed over 50 of the institution’s 300 past students since its opening. The students are able to gain valuable work experience, which they can use in their resume. “We train people to leave. We are trying to get people to upscale themselves and their lives,” he says.
Barnett reveals that much of the equipment used in the factory is made at the institution. For example, in 2018, the school manufactured a machine that transplants five million onion seedlings daily to an agro-processor – the only machine of its kind in Jamaica.
The centre’s students, among them Stanford, also produced a machine, which sorts over two tonnes of onions hourly to another local agro-supplier.
“I love my job, I am very passionate about it, because I like building things. To wake up every day [knowing] that I have the skill to put things together to make it work is a joyous feeling,” Stanford says.