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There is already a large contingent of foreign labor in Guyana. The recent immigrants represent Nigerians, Brazilians, Haitians, Cubans, Venezuelans and many from Latin America and the Caribbean. However, Guyana will soon need to convene a task force on foreign labor which will ultimately recommend to the Government that it is time to import even more foreign skilled workers into Guyana.
The labor force in Guyana is quite small, with a total of 299147 people out of a population of 800000, and this number does not include the large number of aforementioned and often illegal migrants from neighboring countries who are working in the informal economy. Guyana’s economy is growing rapidly and has become the fastest growing in the Caribbean with a projected average growth of more than 20% for next five years and given these numbers there are valid concerns about whether Guyana will have enough workers to supply its rapidly growing economy.
A population of just over 740,000 and a relatively small labor force of around 299,147 people, means that there are only 14 people for each job in the Guyanese economy, more importantly because of skills migration out of Guyana and the low number of students who finish high school and tertiary education, there is a growing mismatch between skills demanded by the growing economy and talent available to fill those positions. While this seems like great news for employees and portends rising salaries for skilled labor due to increasing demand, it poses significant challenges for businesses that are unable to fill critical positions to help achieve company strategic objectives and to be globally competitive.
Guyana especially has a shortage of skilled workers in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition to the historical and persistent skills migration, Guyana just does not produce enough children who are excited about Maths, Science and Engineering in the K-12 educational pipeline which feeds into the university system. Consequently, the nation is just not producing enough graduates to meet the future needs of the economy. In fact, Guyana is already importing foreign labor to fill these positions because there are so few qualified Guyanese available in the workforce.
In addition to importing foreign labor, business stakeholders in Guyana should begin to focus on how we can all work together to improve our own homegrown talent pool. There are skill sets in demand which are not being supplied by graduates from local educational institutions and there are skills like Maths and Science for which the education system has been persistently poor at preparing the nation’s children. It is also important to recognize that job skills like communication, coordination, problem solving and innovation are also critical to a 21st century developing country workforce and our institutions must make the necessary adjustments to ensure that the nation’s children are prepared to compete globally by providing opportunities which allow students to hone these skills.