As over 1,400 trainees are preparing to graduate from the vocation skills programme, co-ordinator Michelle Burris says Tobagonians should expect to see many new business ventures across the island.
The programme, which has been in existence for 20 years and reoriented in 2017 by Secretary of Community Development, Enterprise Development and Labour, Marslyn Melville-Jack, started as the adult education classes, which was a more skills-based programme. Now the programme offers 30 day and night classes from Monday to Friday.
This year the cycle began in February and ends August 31.The programme was designed to attract and encourage business activity towards greater economic development in Tobago.
Some of the classes included nail art; bread, cakes and pastry making; Indian cooking and delicacies; ballroom dancing; balloon and floral art and drapery.
Burris said, “What we did was introduce masonry and tiling, for the first time in this cycle. What we usually do is research to see what worked and what didn’t work. We would ask persons in the community what they wanted, and air conditioning, tiling, refrigeration and electrical were asked for most, so we added these.”
She said there was a rush in the first week for the new classes that were added.
The courses for making bread, cake and pastry, electrical, Indian delicacies and air condition repairs garnered significant interest within the first week.
“We didn’t have a situation where the classes didn’t do well. All the classes were filled and we a have lower extrication rate for this cycle. Persons have become more and more excited because now we have configured so that you can access business loans and grants, coming out of natural migration from the programme.”
These grants will be provided through the Business Development Unit at the Division of Finance to participants interested in taking the next step and becoming entrepreneurs.
She said there are plans to add more tutors and extend the programme, as a means to grow Tobago’s private sector.
This year, over 30 tutors are involved in the programme.
“Every new cycle we try to recruit new tutors, because we can never have too much. Before the start of the 2020 cycle we’ll put out an ad for more tutors, so we can run the programme (with) more successes and effectively.”
She said the focus is to encourage skills development in Tobago so that whether the participants decide to use the new skill as a hobby or business venture, “we know the number of skilled persons in Tobago is larger than it was before the programme started. It will also keep indigenous craft – a dying art – alive in Tobago.”