The adage “knowledge is power” has not been forgotten by executives at the TT Manufacturing Association (TTMA) who oversee their group of 509 manufacturing companies and associates, and ensures that the value of each company is raised by their presence and assistance.
Speaking to TTMA director Gary Awai, at the association's offices on Tenth Street, Barataria recently, Business Day was told the association recognised there was an opportunity to put the philosophy of that adage into practice, by empowering employees, and by extension businesses, with the knowledge of what is needed to become an even better and more technically versed employee, and what it takes to become an effective leader.
This was the driving force behind TTMA’s Small to Medium Entrepreneurship Toolkit (SME Toolkit) which was launched in part last month.
Awai said when the association looked at a confidence index, which quantifies the confidence in labour and marketing, it showed TT was poor in terms of educating employees.
A look at the Central Bank’s confidence survey report indicated similar outcomes, noting that unskilled workers were one of the top five obstacles to productivity. He also noted that several small businesses were missing out on opportunities, because they did not have suitably skilled workers.
“So you would have a man running a line as an apprentice or a machine operator, but he is not qualified. He would have gotten that position after being there for a number of years, but he did not get certified,” Awai said. “We realised that none of the programmes available through UWI or anywhere else really addresses and fits those technical gaps.
"So we partnered with UWI and Roytec and asked them to develop a corporate training programme specific to those areas that are identified as potential opportunities or areas of need.”
Awai told Business Day those areas of need were not only focused on technical and vocational skills, but also, and with equal importance, leadership skills.
“We felt that no matter how bright you are or how qualified you are, if you are unable to lead the people below you, and engage and build trust and strong teams, you are going to fail.
"The most important asset you will have in any business is people.”
Awai said the association will develop a syllabus which would include team-building, effective human resource training and self-awareness, which would teach employees how to become more effective leaders who would be able to motivate and manage workers.
The association also teamed up with the MIC Institute of Technology to put together a syllabus to develop vocational skills like metallurgy, wielding and mechatronics, to improve the technical abilities and to certify workers on production lines.
For the technical skills, the association partnered with UWI and Roytec, and developed a corporate training programme whose syllabus includes modules like strategic business management, quality management, resource and operations management, innovation and new product development to support and certify the skills of each worker.
The first part of the programme, which is the technical skill toolkit developed by TTMA, UWI and Roytec, was initiated last month, at the start of the school year. Business Day was told the other two programmes would be launched next year.
The SME toolkit is available to students and employees alike, and has been broken down into a nine-week programme with 12 modules.
“We know the people who would benefit from this the most are working, so we asked them to break it down into short courses, and tailor them to be two or three-day courses,” Awai said.
“So far we’ve gotten a good interest from quite a number of clients, and we hope more will sign on.”
Ultimately, the association’s goal in implementing this SME training programme would be to lessen the number of unskilled workers, which would in turn increase productivity and ultimately raise the manufacturing output from its current position, which stands somewhere between 60 and 70 per cent. He said certified workers would have the training to see flaws in production where the unskilled worker would not, and employees with leadership skills would have the ability not only to motivate teams, but build teams and recognise the best position for every worker, plus implement plans which the company develops.
“One of the things we recognised as a gap would be that you have the best strategy, you have the best plan, you have a competitive advantage – but you fail to put it into operation. Not only would we be able to teach you to build a team (through teaching leadership skills), but help you implement the plan.”
While training is important to assure the best quality of production is met, what if the employee who was given that training decides to leave with that wealth of knowledge provided by the employer?
Awai said while losing employees is inevitable, employers also have a duty to ensure all employees are adequately trained. Pointing out that making opportunities like the SME tool kit available was part of their job as an association, Awai encouraged his membership to get all their people qualified, regardless of the fear of losing employees.
“I expect everyone to leave, because there may not be opportunities to get promoted. At some point in time people are going to leave,” Awai said. “I may be the CEO of a company, but that is still a desk, or a function. Tomorrow I may go, but the way my role was discharged creates an expectation. So the next person would have to live up to the standards that I put in place while executing that role. That is why we have to make sure that people are adequately trained to execute each role.”