With a young, English-speaking workforce that benefits from solid higher education and technical training infrastructure, Trinidad and Tobago is well positioned to advertise its human resources to potential investors. According to data compiled by T&T’s Central Statistical Office, in the second quarter of 2019 an estimated 37% of the population was aged 24 or younger, pointing to considerable potential to equip the next generation to meet the demands of an increasingly tech-focused labour market. Already, around 400 students graduate each year from local universities with degrees related to ICT. With T&T putting itself in a position to become a regional centre for business process outsourcing, both public and private sector actors are placing emphasis on upskilling the domestic workforce.
In August 2019 the Ministry of Education (MoE) announced it was embarking on an plan to put a governing structure in place across all digital education initiatives. The plan will draft an ICT in education policy, ensure devices such as laptops are accessible in schools, update the curriculum to support ICT learning and provide training for teachers to enhance learning methodologies. As part of broader aims Anthony Garcia, the minister of education, said to local media at the time that the government was also looking to put artificial intelligence into school curricula.
In June 2019 it was announced that 735 secondary school teachers from 77 schools across Trinidad and seven in Tobago had completed the MoE’s ICT Teacher Professional Development Programme, equipping them to incorporate digital learning into their lesson plans. The project is aligned with the UNESCO ICT Competency Standards Framework and took place over a seven-week periods including teachers from a wide array of subjects. This marked the fourth group to graduate from the programme, taking the total number of teachers trained to 2180.
In addition to government initiatives, the private sector is promoting a more tech-friendly curriculum in local schools. Bahamas-based Sagicor Life Insurance Company sponsored computer literacy classes aimed at early education, with 14 children aged 10-16 given basic computer training, which includes learning the basics of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Meanwhile, in July 2019 the American Chamber of Commerce of T&T (AmChamTT) called for coding to be incorporated into the public education system as early as primary school, pointing to animation, robotics, data science and mobile software as key areas for future job creation.
Higher Education Offer
In 2019 the University of the West Indies (UWI) was the highest-ranked university in the Caribbean, according to the Times Higher Education Latin America University Rankings. Its Trinidadian campus at St Augustine offers bachelor’s programmes in computer science and IT, with optional management tracks; master’s degrees in computer science and data science; and doctoral programmes in research and computing. Engineering students can also study for bachelor’s or master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering.
As part of the programmes, students are able to undertake internships with local and international companies including local firms Micro Software Design and Republic Bank; Singaporean consultancy Crimson Logic; the US’ Tucker Energy Services and digital heath firm Medullan; and Caribbean-based robotics and software outsourcing firm Virtana Instruments and telecoms company Digicel.
The public sector is also offering internship opportunities. Students now have the possibility to work with iGovTT, which is responsible for providing consulting and support services for T&T ministries, departments, divisions and agencies. During the eight-week programme at iGovTT in 2019, nine interns were integrated into ICT project management and production shared services operations, providing first-hand work experience.
A number of collaborations have proved encouraging for the sector. In 2017 AmChamTT established the Digital Transformation Committee to focus on developing policies and initiatives to enhance digitalisation. In July 2018 national investment body InvesTT partnered with regional software developer Hacker Hostel to host a four-week training programme for local graduates, aimed at adapting their skills to the demands of the international market. More recently, a partnership between Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and Telecommunications Services of T&T (TSTT) saw the bmobile-UWI Innovation Lab inaugurated at the St Augustine campus in September 2019. With funding from Huawei, the lab looks to drive research, testing and development of new products in the field, while training students and ICT professionals. T&T will also be participating in the Huawei Global ICT competition for the first time, with the 2019/20 iteration launched in October 2019. The competition entails a preliminary online examination, upon which Huawei will fly the six UWI students with the highest scores to Panama in April 2020 to compete in the regional final. Discussions are also under way to see UWI become a Huawei ICT Academy through the country’s Seeds for the Future programme. With support from TSTT and Huawei, the MoE has been able to implement a number of digital programmes, including an app that allows teachers to apply for a jobs online and have it sent to the relevant institution within 24 hours, cutting down bureaucracy.
Tech start-up support is also gaining traction, reinforced by the private sector. Jamaican digital bootcamp company Tech Beach hosts a series of summits for the ICT industry across the Caribbean. Together with energy company BP T&T, they are looking to address the skills gap in the country and democratise access to technology. A camp in August 2019 hosted 60 children aged 13-19 at Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain to learn web and software development, among other skills. Five participants were then trained to become tech instructors. The Ministry of Planning and Development sponsored 20 companies to attend Tech Beach’s events in 2019, and the company is currently working on a proposal with the Inter-American Development Bank to run a series of boot camps for the start-up community in 2020. In another contribution to the tech start-up scene, Microsoft’s Trinidad offices are now being used to offer entrepreneurial support to small and medium-sized enterprises through LinkedIn’s meetup events.
In July 2019 Port of Spain hosted the 35th Annual Conference and Trade Exhibition with a focus on app developers and e-sports. With more than 500 people in attendance, young members of the ICT community were given the opportunity to exchange ideas with major regional players, such as UK telecoms company Liberty Global, Digicel and Huawei. Meetings and roundtable discussions were also held between the telecommunications ministers of 12 Caribbean nations and private sector stakeholders. Representatives of 35 countries from the Caribbean and Latin America were also in attendance. The 2020 conference is expected to focus on matchmaking for businesses.
In March 2020 the International Conference on Emerging Trends in Engineering and Technology will be held at UWI’s St Augustine campus. The conference aims to bring together researchers, engineers and policy experts to discuss attaining sustainable economic growth and rising living standards without stressing local financial resources.
Women in Tech
Efforts are also under way to reduce the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In April 2019 the world observed World Girls in ICT Day, an event focused on getting girls around the globe interested in STEM. Together with the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT), the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisations hosted events to encourage girls to take up careers in STEM fields. Over two days the companies hosted more 50 students at the TATT head office in Barataria for the Tech-Savvy Girls event, where they were taught how to build and programme a Google Voice Kit by prominent female scientist as part of the Global System for Mobile Communications Association’s Tech4Girls programme.
The further development of key skills will allow T&T to hold a number of advantages over regional competitors. This will add to the country’s widely known benefits, including native English-speaking skills and a close proximity to both the North and South American markets. With the public and private sectors continuing to invest in local human resources, the country stands to position itself of a regional leader in services outsourcing.
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