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, Mr. Stanford credits the Skills Centre for positively changing his life. He is one of approximately 300 youngsters who have received training from the centre over the past six years.
The institution is based in Wynter’s Pen, Spanish Town, a tough inner-city community with very few opportunities for employment. The centre offers among its programmes, electrical installation; general construction; masonry; aquaponics; plumbing; solar electric and heating technology; welding, and most recent, 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.
In 2013, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), injected $39,372,679.00 into the institution. This facilitated the construction of a new building, which enabled expansion in training. The project was implemented by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF).
In a recent visit to the Skills Centre, part of which has now been transformed into a factory that hires graduates of the training programme, Operations Officer at the CDB, Karl Pivott expressed delight at its continued success.
Mr. Pivott shares with JIS that “it was good to see the project positively impacting the lives of so many disadvantaged youth as well as the agricultural sector.”
Mr. Stanford, one of the graduates who was working at the institution during the visit, 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 several 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”.
Head of the training facility, Michael Barnett, says the location of the facility is very strategic. He notes that prior to the advent of the centre, the closest training facility to Wynter’s Pen was in Portmore, approximately 15 Kilometers or two taxi rides away. This would translate to the students paying $50,000.00 for transportation monthly which they could not afford. The closeness of the centre to their homes eliminates this cost.
At the New Horizons Skills Centre, persons as young as age 16 are accepted into training, helping them to acquire life skills as well as a trade. While the training is open to the community, during the days you will find mostly males there. Both genders train at night.
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, Mr. Barnett says that having provided training for the youths over several years, he realized 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, including Mr. Stanford. Prior to this venture, many struggled to get jobs, as they did not have the requisite experience, or because their address was viewed unfavorably.
The Centre is now partnering with Shavout International Holding Company Ltd, a local company that produces naturally grown produce and agriproducts.
The major building on the property has been transformed into a small factory and has been in operation for more than four years. The employees are mostly past students who undertake the tea processing and agro-processing of materials for tea powders; spices and castor oil. This is then exported to more than 15 countries. Within months of start-up, the company won a national award, and this winning streak has continued.
“The partnership between the Skills Centre and a social company is a holistic model to bring people into the labour market. Coming from an area with a stigma, opportunities to work are scarce for people even after training. At New Horizons, trainees build a curriculum vitae (CV) already on the training, and become employable elsewhere,” Senior Operations Officer at CDB, George Yearwog, shares with JIS News.
Mr. 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 more than 50 of the institution’s past students since its opening. The students can gain valuable work experience that they can use in their résumé.
“We train people to leave. We are trying to get people to upscale themselves and their lives,” he says.
He reveals that much of the equipment used in the factory is made at the institution. He also brags that last year, the school delivered an onion transplanter machine that transplants five million onion seedlings daily to an agro-processor.
They also produced and delivered an onion sorting machine, which sorts more than two tonnes of onions hourly to another local agro-supplier.
The institution has been training students since 2007.
Mr. Stanford cites the onion sorting machine and a soil mixer as among his biggest accomplishments since being a part of the institution.
“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,” he said.