Death of the merchant – The Royal Gazette


Created: Oct 25, 2021 8:01 AM

Gone are the days of former Telecommunications Minister Michael Scott, left, displays stamps celebrating Bermuda traders. However, this success seems to be significantly locked into the past.

I remember years ago I had heard the buzzwords “tipping point” and, lately, “inflection point” as perhaps appropriate. I have to say that based on my personal experience with the job market, the early 90s was our tipping point. I have been fortunate enough to evolve across the full spectrum of evolution to the devolution of trades in Bermuda.

My very first job was in 1963 at EC Smith’s carpentry shop, which was an old tin-roofed building on the site of the present Hamilton Pharmacy building. His job included making and restoring furniture, as well as general housekeeping.

One of his main clients was Government House, where we would French style repair and polish much of the antique wood furniture. It’s a skill and an art now completely lost, the last one I remember being Levi Pearman, a generation downstream from EC Smith.

By the 1960s we had a full team of well trained and accomplished seasoned craftsmen who helped propel another generation of craftsmen through apprenticeship programs; I took advantage of this push. Over time, I remember an experience in the ’80s where a local crew of about six men competed against a foreign work crew who were building roofs in a new subdivision in Midland Heights. If the foreign crew beat us, it would be because they worked ten or twelve hours a day. The point was, they weren’t more efficient hour by hour than the local crew.

A decade later, in the early ’90s, I compared four foreign workers doing the same job that would require six Bermudians to perform in the same period – which is a generous observation. At this point, the most reliable and efficient of the local traders were in their sixties and the younger ones needed supervision. This was our tipping point when it became clear in most areas that local companies could not complete jobs successfully and on time without a contingent of foreign labor being included.

It did not stop there: in 2000 the technical deficit was very evident, as most of our experienced craftsmen had retired and there had been no replacement of this skill level among the next generation in the trades. trades. The projects had technical requirements, which too few local artisans had. The trades and services industry has become desperately dependent on the skills of foreign workers. Nothing but pride has kept us from openly accepting that we were behind schedule and that we had not replenished a skilled workforce.

In 1968, it took either the equivalent of a City & Guilds or a three-year apprenticeship with qualified masters to earn a mechanic’s salary. In 2000, people who could hardly be considered properly trained apprentices demanded and, in some cases, obtained TG wages. I remember a man who could barely cut a decent sized roof on his own telling me he wouldn’t get his tools out unless he made $ 50 an hour.

It was our tipping point, where an inflection point means something different. This means that we have gone beyond self-healing and self-sufficiency in the field of trades. Therefore, the rules of the market must change to adapt to the current reality. This does not mean that there is no need for local business, that local business does not need to be considered, or that it should not consider training in various fields. This means that we must accept the reality that we cannot rely solely on the local workforce at present and that new revitalization exercises must occur to bring our work up to previously prevailing international standards.

It is no coincidence that the Bermuda workforce is here at this inflection point, and there is enough criticism for everyone – it just depends on what year we are. want to shoot the balls. However, more importantly, it is better that we start to fully recognize our problems because until we do, we cannot solve them.

Trying to dance or propaganda around the obvious by providing nuanced postures, which amounts to a pseudo-appearance of traders’ ability, would only seal our fate as doomed and prevent future generations from aligning. on real production and know-how.

The Department of Public Works and Engineering is a prime example of an organization that was once able to build our King Edward VII Memorial Hospital on time and on a reasonable budget, but is now reduced to the inability to build a sidewalk. on time. It is the same organization but just a clear reflection of the deterioration of the work.

Bermuda faces many awkward truths; having a technically depleted workforce is just one. There is no miracle solution. Our future education might impact the dilemma, but it will take time – maybe at least a generation.

It is not just technical skills that are needed, but having a moral foundation and purpose in life goes hand in hand with the types of discipline that make a fully developed craftsman.


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