By Cristina Caus
News Americas, FORT LAUDERDALE, FL, Thurs. July 6, 2023: In the midst of the oil and gas euphoria, the world’s fastest-growing economy—Guyana, is facing a challenge, a human resources shortage.
With a projected growth of around 25.8 % between 2022-2024, which translates into an increase in the production of goods and services and an increase in capital goods, like assets used by businesses for production (buildings, machinery, equipment), labor force demand increase is quite a natural reaction too. Human resources are vital to economic development as without them the other resources, such as the ones mentioned, can’t be mobilized.
There is currently a pronounced gap between the industry labor demand and the availability of skilled workers. According to the 2020 Labor Migration Study by IOM (International Organization for Migration), Guyana will need at least 100,000 workers to realize its full growth potential.
Amid the human capital shortage, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Georgetown, Guyana on July 6, 2023. (Photo by KENO GEORGE/AFP via Getty Images)
The question is how to satisfy this need.
Taking a closer look at Guyana’s demographic situation we can get an understanding of the opportunity and the challenge arising. Guyana had a population of 810,900 in January 2023, 51% female dominated and almost 73% based in rural areas. The median age of the population is 25.9 and about 54% are working-age with an average total of 28% between the ages of 18-34. Many suggestions and implementations have sprouted at the public and private levels as a result to address the labor resource challenge. The high percentage of young adults is a positive factor as this is an opportunity both for the government and the private sector to invest in them as a short-term strategy. Applications of non-traditional ways, such as paid internships, technical training, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship programs would connect and enroll them in the employment system faster and at a higher rate, based on where the need is greater. The private sector has been doing its part. ExxonMobil Guyana for example, decided to take a multi-tiered approach by building local talent. As shared by them earlier this year, the US$160 million Ogle Operations Center, in construction now, is proof of long-term investment in Guyana’s prosperity and future workforce. This modern center in Guyana aims to control Exxon’s offshore operations and around 130 expats are now training locals through comprehensive mentoring programs in place to ensure that Guyanese will run the operations soon.
Under 35% of the population are below the age of 17 which presents an opportunity long-term. The government with the World Bank will be financing US$44 million Guyana Strengthening the Human Capital Project, with a focus on expanding access to quality education at the secondary level and improving technical and vocational training (TVET) to meet the needs of the labor market. The funding aims to prepare Guyanese citizens to excel in emerging sectors of the economy including climate-resilient agriculture, low-carbon technology, and digital development.
A slightly higher female availability can be used as an advantage by redirecting them and fostering their participation in STEM career paths. The challenge lies on the other hand in the fact that most of the population is in rural areas and would require significant investments from the government in improving the infrastructure and education system in the rural areas to leverage this resource group.
The response of the national education system to address the present and future market skills needs will take some time to roll out, therefore other labor sources for the short term needs can be considered, such as educational supply via out-of-country providers and imported skilled workforce via immigration.
Guyana has been seeing an increase in population for the past few years, with a 0.63% increase from 2022 to 2023. Some of it is the result of migration; as a CARICOM member, Guyana will be witnessing this trend for the years to come, especially from the neighboring oil and gas nations. That’s why the assurance of a structured migration policy with the modernization of the legislative and institutional framework should be a priority.
There is one untapped source for the much-needed talent and workforce, a source that has been turning some heads recently and that should be explored seriously, the Diaspora. Surprisingly enough, based on a Forbes report, Guyana accounts for the largest diaspora population in the world by percentage, with around 36.4% native-born population residing abroad. The top 3 locations chosen by the Guyanese diaspora are the UK, USA and Canada.
The country experienced years of instability and corruption after its detachment from Britain (1966) which forced the people to leave. With the recent oil and gas discovery, this promising economic shift should serve as a catalyst to attract the Guyanese Diaspora back home. As Foreign Secretary, Robert Persaud highlighted, the diaspora is seen as “an asset to the country’s development”.
Two questions to be addressed are how to attract the diaspora back and what are the benefits of it.
Attracting the diaspora requires more than appealing to the patriotic sentiment of the citizens, it needs clear actions and better economic prospects in the country. The key variables to attract the migrants back home are: 1. programs and attractive conditions, 2. good and safe economic environment 3. career growth and investment opportunities. Examples of reverse brain drain programs applied like in countries such as Ireland and Korea, who offer incentives and generous packages to lure back the migrants can be a solution. Competitive remuneration and adequate living conditions combined with opportunities to fill top positions at multinationals and corporations as well as opportunities for those looking to launch their businesses to create more jobs and sustain nations’ economic growth can be very attractive for those who return.
The benefits of attracting the diaspora back to Guyana are many. It greatly contributes to an increase in return tourism, expenditures on transportation and telecom services and trade. Bringing back the Diaspora means mobilization of wealth towards the country of origin, Guyana, through their direct investments and through foreign investors who gain more confidence to invest as a result. The Diaspora can also serve as a main source of skills and knowledge transfer,through their gained valuable experience, education and skills from abroad. This can be used both to close the skilled labor gap by direct employment and to feed the local private sector development through businesses, training and mentoring the local workforce.
An example of successfully attracting the diaspora back is Poland. Poland went through massive migration when it joined the European Union (EU) in 2004. Since then, the economy has stabilized, becoming a tech hub for many multinationals and the sixth-largest economy in the EU. In 2018, the Polish Prime Minister urged the diaspora to return to Poland as the country struggled with a labor shortage. Amongst many other things, in 2022, Poland’s Finance Ministry set up the “Polish deal” whereby some of those who return won’t have to pay a zloty in income tax for the first four years after resettling to the country. Poland’s reversed brain drain strategy seems to have encouraged about 200,000 Poles to consider returning to their homeland from the UK, so far.
Guyana is not quite there as Poland, but its growth is fueled now by the abundance of both natural resources (oil) and capital resources brought by foreign investment, businesses and revenue from oil. However, this could be slowed down by its labor shortage in the near future. Therefore, strengthening relations with the diaspora in parallel with internal attractive reforms should be at the top of the government’s agenda.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cristina Caus is an international oil and gas/ energy consultant and business developer, with master’s degree in international business in Europe and in the United States.