There are hundreds of job opportunities for those willing to put in the work and accept the reality of entry-level wages.

This is the message from employers and industry leaders who have highlighted a mix of retraining and a “reality check” as potential solutions to the unemployment crisis.

Statistics show there are 450 foreigners working on permits as masons in Bermuda.

It is understood that even more work permits are issued annually for chefs working in Bermudian hotels and restaurants.

Hospitality

Both professions require limited academic qualifications and are taught for free at Bermuda College.

Labour minister Kim Wilson said retraining or “upgrading” qualifications is critical to help Bermudians get back to work.

Restaurant boss Phil Barnett said there is plenty of work in the hospitality trade. But he said applicants had to accept that entry-level pay grades are fairly low and they would have to work their way up to better wages.

Ms Wilson and the Construction Association of Bermuda yesterday urged Bermudians to take advantage of the courses on offer and put themselves at the front of the queue for a host of job opportunities when new construction projects begin in the new year.

Charles Dunstan, vice president of the Construction Association, said only four people had signed up for the recent masonry course and encouraged anyone looking for work to get certified with the National Training Board.

He added: “The most heavily subscribed construction category for work permits is masonry, one of the core trades, with training available locally both on and off the job.

“And yet, at one point recently, there were only four people enrolled in the masonry programme at Bermuda College.

“This points to a breakdown in communicating the opportunities that are available.”

Ms Wilson urged workers in the industry to connect with the Construction Association and the National Training Board and ensure they had the right qualifications to take new jobs when they become available.

“In an effort to reduce our reliance on foreign expertise in this area of industry, we are here to appeal to construction industry professionals to take advantage of the slow period to upgrade their skills, become certified in their field and dedicate themselves to a path of continuous learning.”

In the restaurant industry, too, bosses say there are hundreds of opportunities for people who are prepared to get qualified.

Phil Barnett, who runs the Island Restaurant Group, which includes the Pickled Onion and Hog Penny, said more work permits are handed out annually for chefs than any other profession.

He said any school leaver could train to be a chef at Bermuda College or take an entry-level post at a restaurant and learn on the job.

But he said low starting wages and weekend work proved a barrier for many applicants.

“That is the nature of the beast unless Bermudians want to start paying $100 per meal.

“You can train to be a chef at Bermuda College or you can learn on the job, but the starting wage for a chef-de-partie is around $15 per hour.

“If you are going to work in hospitality anywhere in the world you have to start at the bottom and learn on the job.

“Bermuda is the highest paying place to work. You are not going to get $15 per hour anywhere else.”

He accepted that the initial wages were not likely to feed a family and pay a mortgage but he said the opportunities for progression once you got a foot in the door were limitless.

He said: “I started as a potwasher. I worked my way up. I have so many friends who started in the same position, on low hourly wages, who have worked their way up to be managers and restaurant owners.

“We’ve had people come to us as dishwashers that have left as fully trained chefs on higher wages.”

He said Bermudians had to be realistic about their pay expectations early in their career.

“If you come out of high school and work for three years in the hospitality industry you will start at the bottom but you will get the chance to learn every aspect of the industry.

“If you go to university for three years you are paying for your education. Here you are learning on the job and getting paid. Instead of looking at it as a low-paying job look at it as getting paid to go to school.”

He said a minimum wage of $15-20 per hour — as suggested by some campaigners — would be the death knell for many businesses in retail and hospitality.

Expensive

“Wages are already double what you would get anywhere else in the world. You can come out of CedarBridge and get a job in a shop for around $17 per hour. If you went to Walmart in the U.S. straight from high school you would be getting about $7.

“Everybody says Bermuda is expensive. Bermuda is expensive because wages are expensive.”

He refuted the idea that restaurant bosses kept wages artificially low by attracting cheap foreign labour.

“The industry is the industry is the industry. The percentages are the same the world over.

“Businesses are already struggling to survive, that is why you’ve seen some restaurants close. We’ll probably see more close this winter.”

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