John Mahfood, President of the Jamaica Manufacturing and Exporters Association(JMEA) is warning the government to rapidly deal with the chronic shortage of skilled and unskilled labour in the marketplace, which has been spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic or risk the unravelling of the fiscal gains the country has been experiencing since 2014.

Mahfood, who delivered the keynote address at the media launch of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s EXPO 2022 at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, cited that the effect could be felt more potently in the 2023-24 fiscal year.

“If this problem is not addressed by the government, it will damage our growth negatively in the 2023 fiscal year, and moving forward. One of the lingering effects of COVID-19 has been a shortage of skilled and unskilled labour. We are hearing about this from all sectors including BPO, Tourism, manufacturing and general services.

He cited the example of one company which had to take drastic measures to enhance its recruitment activities after suffering a chronic staff shortage.

“This even goes to the extent of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) where they were short 800 employees and had to start a TV campaign to encourage people to apply.

He said, however, while COVID had had a deleterious effect on all sectors of the society, Jamaica is still on a good trajectory for growth in the next twelve months as the nation came out of COVID with strong foreign exchange reserves, and the Jamaican dollar only devaluing by 8% over close to three years.

Mahfood attributed the positive outlook to the fiscal responsibility of both political administrations, starting with the PNP government back in 2014, which signed the IMF agreement, and the effect of this tight fiscal strategy has allowed our debt to GDP to be reduced from 140% to less than 100% after having been through COVID, one of the rare positive achievements that our leaders have given us since Independence.

Second Vice President Damia Dawes-Monthrope, giving an overview of the Expo, indicated that the event, which would be held November 4-6 at the Montego Bay Convention Centre with the theme Building Resilience –Creating opportunities, would provide networking possibilities, the biggest trade show and exposition in Western Jamaica

The expo will feature an artisan village, invest Mo-Bay forum –investment and business executives, supply chain linkages, alternative emerging opportunities in Montego Bay, focus on key sectors, Agriculture, Agro processing, construction and infrastructure development, light manufacturing, tourism, the creative industry, housing and services and a kiddies village.