REPORT #137 Nov 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

When it comes to diversification of the economy and new information technology infra-structure start ups. Jamaica has just taken a quantum leap into the future, beating Belize to the starting gate in the race for economic prosperity and economic diversification. The gun went off, the race started and the game is away, but the Belize contestants are not even dressed yet back in the locker room, much less crouched down at the starting blocks.

The first 56 programmers will be graduating in December, 1999 from the Caribbean Institute of Technology, or CIT in Montego Bay, Jamaica. 145 hopefuls are registered to start the next software science courses next year. It is a tough, crash course with 8 hour days of lessons and another 8 hours in the computer labs doing the necessary homework.

"The need for programmers is huge", said Ken Abernethy head of computer programs in South Carolina. In the USA right now there is a shortage of 300,000 programmers for the job market. We cannot find the people! This for jobs that pay around $60,000 USA per year. In South Florida, Broward County has started a software development programmers two year associate degree certification. In Dade County to the south of Broward County, they like Belize are still back in the locker rooms. Dade County is reminiscent of Belize, even Jamaica is beating Dade County, Florida, Community College educational system. The bottom half of this South Florida County is composed of Latino's mostly from Spanish speaking countries all over Latin America in what is seriously called the Banana Republic. The northern half of the county is dominantly populated by 10,000 Belizeans, 150,000 Jamaicans, 50,000 Haitians and a hodge-podge number of immigrants from other Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic, Barbados, Dominica and other places. A lot of them are already well educated by Dade County standards. A million Alabama and Georgia, African-Americans make up the rest. In the first week of November, 1999, a brief look at the Miami-Dade County Community College system gave the impression the educational system was in confusion. The direction of the North Campus and outlying centers floundering around without direction or goals. Three years ago, the MDCC system underwent a catharsis. A violent upheaval where the educational programs had been dominated by a get rich scheme based on financial aid, tuition waivers and other programs catering to sucker the unemployed into worthless low level poorly paid training programs. When the Federal Aid was cancelled, the system collapsed and a blood bath in a new educational reality check struck the MDCC educational system from which they have not yet recovered. More than three-quarter million USA immigrants to Dade County came from the rural areas of Georgia and Alabama to take advantage of the welfare state. Indeed, the MDCC North Campus library system is still using computer terminals ( what few there are ) of antiquated speeds, that more probably should be in a museum, or the garbage dump. The bureaucratic controls on this ten year outdated technology, akin to a locked down penitentiary, with sign in and sign out procedures. There is nothing community friendly or educational about it. Huge open library spaces that should be bustling with temporary tables and a hundred internet computers, like the neighboring FIU campuses open to the students and public at large, are living in a Victorian educational environment of yesteryear. Lack of goals, leadership and use of resources absent from the environment.

In the Caribbean, Jamaica could be likened to the future looking Associate Science Degree technology programs going on in Broward County, while Belize should be identified with the failed educational system of the Miami-Dade Community Colleges floundering around without goals and direction in low paying service orientated welfare style programs.

There are a million computer programmer jobs available worldwide. In Jamaica, the information technology is going to be the backbone of the future economy. They are well on the way to creating a nucleus with this first batch of 56 software programmers in Montego Bay to establish the necessary human resources for a new industry in Jamaica. Per capita income in Jamaica is $6000, while in Belize it is $2400 according to Belmopan figures.

"Information technology is going to take over" said Omar Murray, age 23, a former hotel clerk. He now spends 10 hours a day learning the latest computer languages at CIT in Jamaica. C++, Java, Java Script, Web Page design, Visual Basic and database technology are some of those. The Jamaican government is putting money behind the program. The government is paying $4000 of the $6000 cost for tuition per student. Jamaican students are well setup to accomplish this program. The Caribbean system of education at the upper levels is well established for the necessary Algebra math backgrounds necessary for a software programmer. Traceyann Samuels age 27, said a lot of them have sacrificed to be at the programming school. He gave up his civil service government job to enroll. He sees himself in 4 years as having his own international consulting firm, doing work in software development, imaging and communications. He said, he had no previous University training, only some High School. This program is designed to give in 10 months of crash tuition what most University graduates would take four years to get in a Bachelor Degree program. So says, managing director of CIT, Michael Glova.

Going offshore to find software programmers is not a new idea. U.S. and European companies have been farming out software work to programmers in Ireland, India, Israel and even Eastern European countries that are absorbing the new industry like a sponge. Finance is not even a question, just finding a software programmer to work at any price is the problem. James Ram an Indian in Atlanta identified the crisis four years ago and started a firm INDUSA in Atlanta as an entrepreneur with his native India. Since then, because of the travel time to India, when there are problems he opted to start a branch in Jamaica. Jamaica has the telecommunications and infra-structure throughout the island. You cannot find a receptive environment in South Florida, particularly Dade County. Belize, unlike Jamaica and partially because of a telecommunications monopoly, partly because of a government that wanted to restrict telecommunications progress in favor of milking the AT & T cash cow for incoming phone calls is not yet possible. You cannot have a programmer working in a nice vacation house in the Chiqibul Forest, or the Mountain Pine Ridge, or the fabulous hills of the Mayan communities of the Toledo District. Telecommunications infra-structure does not even exist in most of these attractive places in Belize. The idea of channeling software development work for U.S. companies to other countries like India and Jamaica is working moderately well for our Indian Atlanta, USA entrepreneur.

Yup! Jamaica 56 and Belize 0, in this competition for economic diversification. Next year the score is going to be 161 to 0, Jamaica in the lead.

Remember! The world wide shortage of software programmers virtually guarantees every graduate will have a job. The skill is in high demand and the infra-structure is not expensive and you don't even have to be a high school graduate to start. Just a knack for algebra and math. With a little bit of common sense logic thrown in. The growth rate for the need for programmers is in the order of 100,000 a year in the USA alone. Nano- computers are already in the research labs with chips the size of a pin head and the capacity of 10,000 computers of today. Information technology will be the backbone of the global economy for the next fifty years. All the crash course Jamaican graduates are guaranteed jobs by INDUSA. The pay will be $7 to $10 USA per hour, in a country of low pay. Salaries will of course rise as competition for scarce qualified labor comes about from new foreign companies seeking employees.

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