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Training threat to islands' future future

A lack of courses for post-16s could leave the Falkands without the key employees it needs. Sarah Cassidy reports

THE FALKLAND Islands education system is failing less academic pupils, according to a report commissioned by the islands' government.

Unless 16-year-olds are given better vocational training, the islands will be left without the skilled hotel and catering staff, health workers and administrators they will need as their economy develops.

While pupils who have five good GCSEs can study A-levels at a UK boarding school with all fees met by the Falkland Islands Government, those who have fewer academic qualifications are often neglected, researchers from Middlesex University Business School found.

But as the Falkland economy grows and the oil industry, tourism, fishing and farming develop, employers anticipate severe recruitment problems unless training for school leavers and older workers is improved.

The islands boast one bank, two hotels, one petrol station and two solicitors as well as many small businesses and farms. But expansion is slow and expensive because of an acute shortage of skilled workers. Every brick of an extension to the primary school, built in anticipation of a population surge should oil be discovered, had to be imported - along with the labour to build it.

Oil has yet to be found in commercial quantities, but the continuing off-shore exploration gives local businesses the opportunity to offer oil companies land-based support - if they can meet the high standards expected by multinational firms.

Much has changed since the 1982 conflict. A comprehensive secondary school system has been developed on the islands, offering places for all 11 to 16-year-olds at the Falkland Islands Community School in Stanley.

Usually one third of final year pupils - nine out of 26 last year -will get the five or more GCSE passes needed for government-sponsored further education abroad. Most take A levels at Peter Symonds' Sixth Form College in Winchester, but some study at Loughborough College of Further Education.

The future is not so bright for pupils left behind. Lack of vocational training for 16-year-olds has left the Falklands facing a severe shortage of skilled plumbers, carpenters and builders.

The researchers, who spent three and a half weeks on the islands, found widespread recruitment problems, particularly in low-paid service work and in technical and professional positions.

Full employment makes it almost impossible for employers to attract young people into unpopular jobs. Managers at a wool mill in Camp (the local term for everywhere outside Stanley) told researchers they wanted to double their workforce but were unable to attract any new staff.

There are no post-16 vocational courses on the islands. Youth training depends mainly on traditional apprentice schemes - normally on a five year "time served" basis with the government's Public Works Department.

But the researchers found the training was unstructured and some trades, such as plumbing, were unpopular with young people - who would rather learn skilled computer or electrical work.

The research showed that 16-year-olds who stayed on the Falklands without learning a trade tended to move rapidly through a succession of unskilled jobs, such as driving, labouring and agricultural work.

Mr Johnson said: "This situation has the unwelcome side-effect that employers are unwilling to invest in training young people, as there is a feeling that they will not stick at anything and are likely to leave the business as soon as a better-paid job becomes available."

The report recommended that the Falklands' government should develop a "training culture", including life-long learning for the islands' 1,724 full-time workers.

Literacy and numeracy were common problems for older workers, who were reluctant to attend classes for fear of losing face. They also thought training or adult education was a sign of failure rather than an opportunity for self-improvement.

The report concluded that a training committee should be established to oversee careers guidance, youth training and life-long career development as well as encouraging and funding overseas training.

It also highlighted the problem of Falklands children who came to Britain for further and higher education. Although they received a high standard of education, the researchers said, all the students interviewed said they wanted to pursue a career in the Falklands.

"The only problematic issue seems to be whether the Islands can provide appropriate job and career opportunities for a growing number of highly educated young people."

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