The St. Maarten Training Foundation (SMTF) initiative taken after Hurricane Irma to provide professional courses with payment for people left un- or underemployed due to the extensive damage Irma caused is generally recognised as very important in St. Maarten’s ability to bounce back. Together with the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA and the National Recovery Programme Bureau (NRPB) more than 1,000 such workers were able to upgrade their skills and knowledge in various fields for which a need on the island exists.

They did so while receiving a stipend, small transport allowance and medical insurance to tide them over. Many of these graduates have since found full-time employment, while the programme financed from the Dutch-sponsored Trust Fund managed by the World Bank continues with a new group of participants.

On the French side too, efforts are being made to improve the labour situation. An apprentice programme for persons ages 16-29 was announced by the Collectivité (see Thursday paper).

It offers the possibility to learn a variety of practical and marketable skills on the job. The idea is for companies to employ and train applicants in the way they would be expected to function.

The reality is that completely qualified candidates to fill specific vacancies who meet all related requirements are often hard to find locally. If investing in recruits who at least show some promise with the necessary in-house training becomes more attractive it should stimulate choosing that option.

A key ingredient of the apprentice programme is therefore that businesses pay only 30 per cent of the wage cost, while government covers the rest. This is the kind of incentive that can certainly prove a difference-maker.