Updated: September 2019 | By: JOEL HENRY
Like many industries, human resource management (HRM) has felt the effects of the economic downturn in Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, HRM, still an emerging profession, has been hit harder than some others because it was viewed as non-essential for organisations. “Whenever there is a downturn HR positions are usually the ones that get cut,” says Maxine Attong, President of the Human Resource Management Association of Trinidad and Tobago (HRMATT).
However, as organisations accept the new economic realities of the market, HRM is increasingly being seen as an important tool for competitive service delivery and efficiency.
“The economic times have forced organisations to look at the quality of service they are getting from their workers and to make more demands of them,” says Attong. “They are asking, ‘when I employ you, what am I getting?’.”
HRM is entering a new phase, with new opportunities, tempered however by the still sluggish economy.
HRM in Trinidad & Tobago
HRM, the strategic management of people within organisations, has emerged as an industry in Trinidad and Tobago over the last 20 years. Prior to that, functions related to employees were carried out by personnel managers, industrial relations experts and administrative staffers. With programmes of study provided by educational institutions such as the Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business, the School of Accounting and Management, and others, HRM has grown into a recognised profession and industry.
THE HRM INDUSTRY CONSISTS OF:
- Trained professionals employed within organisations
- HRM consultants and trainers
- HRM firms
- Administrative and support staff within HRM departments
- HRM education and training providers
It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 people employed in the industry.
Human resource professionals and departments are employed in locally based conglomerates, the energy sector, financial institutions, other large-scale companies, and in Government ministries and other State-run entities. While small and medium-sized firms may not have a permanent, internal HRM resource, many utilise consultants and firms to provide these services.
HRMATT is the professional association for the industry.
HR AND THE NEW NORMAL
In the period 2018-2019, HRM experienced some improvement as organisations have become accustomed to the new reality of the economic downturn. Prior to this (from 2016-2017) the industry was negatively affected by the slowing economy.
“We experienced cuts in training and talent development budgets,” says Attong. “Companies cut whatever they considered not essential to their bottom line.”
She adds, “In 2018, what we saw was a return to training and development. People said we cannot keep waiting for the economy to get better and we realised this is the new normal.”
Organisations are looking to HRM to improve service delivery of their human resources to increase their cost efficiency and competitiveness. In addition, as organisations have reduced or plan to reduce staff because of the downturn, human resource professionals can provide strategic support for the internal restructuring of roles and functions required of a smaller team.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
On 30 November 2018, State oil company, the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Petrotrin) closed its refining operations. This meant the loss of 3,400 permanent jobs and 1,229 temporary positions, a potential influx of thousands of unemployed onto the job market. The company has reportedly dispersed TT$2.7 billion in exit payments and others to the former employees.
Though the loss of almost 5,000 jobs is a negative for the economy, economists see a potential opportunity for retraining and employment in sustainable industries. Petrotrin has lost TT$8 billion in the last five years, is TT$12 billion in debt and owes Government TT$3 billion in taxes and royalties. At present however, the company’s former workers are feeling the impact of job loss and a national solution, provided by the State, has been recommended.
VENEZUELAN MIGRANT CRISIS
Due to economic and political instability at home, millions (estimates range from 2.7 million to 3.6 million) of Venezuelans have fled their country in the last four years. Tens of thousands, projected in some quarters to number as high as 60,000, have come to Trinidad and Tobago.
Venezuelans are an emerging phenomenon on the local labour market. They are skilled and unskilled workers, and there are many highly qualified professionals in several fields. If their status is regularised, it will impact the job market by increasing competition in the national workforce and providing employers a wider pool of potential hires. From an HR perspective, this is an opportunity to provide training and development for workers to compete more effectively.
Technology is opening up new opportunities in HRM, primarily through remote working. Now that Trinidad and Tobago has become a broadband society with widespread access to high-speed internet and hardware such as computers, tablets and laptops, the option now exists for workers to perform their functions outside of the traditional office space. Human resource professionals are well placed to assist organisations and their people in navigating this new environment.
“We have everything we need to work from home effectively,” says Attong. “It is for organisations to trust employees and we have a lot of work to do in that area because unfortunately a precedent has been set in terms of employee productivity.” Remote working can eliminate hours of lost time due to congestion on the nation’s roads and alleviate the mental and emotional effects of such traffic.
Similarly, flexible hours of employment can also have a positive effect on the traffic situation, worker well-being and by extension, productivity.
Legislation such as the “National Workplace Policy on Sexual Harassment in Trinidad and Tobago” has the potential to make a considerable impact on organisations and HRM will be crucial in preparing them for the new conditions it will impose on gender-based employee relations.
GUYANA AND BEYOND
As Trinidad and Tobago continues to advance its HRM industry in terms of skills and number of professionals, new opportunities are opening up beyond the nation’s borders. Guyana is of particular interest as the country moves into the energy industry and industrial development, but HRMATT sees opportunity throughout the region and even beyond.
However, like all industries, HRM is subject to the larger economic picture in Trinidad and Tobago of low growth. This will continue to have an impact on spending on employee-related activities.
Statistics taken from the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago Key Economic and Financial Statistics: POPULATION AND LABOUR FORCE (2017)
- Total Labour Force: 633,700
- Persons with Jobs: 603,100
- Total Unemployed: 30,600
- Participation Rate: 59.2%
- Unemployment Rate:4.8%
SECTORAL DISTRIBUTION OF EMPLOYMENT:
- Agriculture: 22,300
- Petroleum and Gas: 14,500
- Manufacturing (inclusive of Mining and Quarrying): 48,900
- Construction (Inclusive of Electricity and Water): 88,600
- Transport, Storage and Communication: 42,600
- Other Services: 384,100
- Not Classified: 2000
EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT OF EMPLOYED LABOUR FORCE:
- Primary Education: 106,125
- Secondary Education: 358,500
- University Education: 136,225