STEP clean-up crews are not just cutting grass but gaining skills to enhance livelihoods

Basseterre, St. Kitts, October 16, 2017 (S.T.E.P.) — The Skills Training Empowerment Programme (STEP) is an all-encompassing and holistic training programme which was launched in February this year by the Team Unity Administration to address joblessness especially among the country’s youth.
The programme, according to its Director Mr Wendell Wattley, is committed to empowering the country’s youths by offering them job skills through approved training which is certainly an enhancement of its forerunner, the People Employment Programme (PEP), which only sought to keep persons in loosely arranged employment.
STEP (Skills Training Empowerment Programme) as the acronym indicates is a skills training empowerment programme where attachment for job training is provided to STEP interns, or are trained in a wide range of skills ranging from electricity, air conditioning, landscaping, hospitality, to and including cosmetology etc.
“When the training is finished we seek to attach those persons to jobs in areas where they can be fully employed eventually,” said Mr Wattley. “We pay for the initial attachment and we ask the employers to eventually absorb them within their workforce.”
The Director said that STEP insists on moving people from a position of dependency to a position where they can have gainful, fulltime employment and also to provide the opportunity where they become entrepreneurs and stand on their own in the areas that they have trained.
“That is essentially the difference between the emphasis of the PEP and of the STEP,” observed Mr Wattley. “The programme is focused heavily on training of persons who are interns on the STEP. We still have a significant number of persons who have not been trained and we are hoping over time we will be able to capture a lot more of those persons and direct them towards appropriate skills.”
Talking in reference to STEP clean-up crews that are seen working around the island, Mr Wattley emphasised that those persons are not just cutting grass as some members of the public tend to refer to the work being done, but are being given opportunities to be trained in the areas of landscaping and other skills.
The STEP Director observed: “We have these crews right around the island, a team of persons who are actually maintaining the verges on the Island Main Road, and from those groups is where we capture or take persons who will be trained for enhanced landscaping skills.”
He pointed out that from persons in those groups the ones with the required aptitude are given chance to train in other areas, “and so it is not restricted to just landscaping. If persons show interest in other areas, we try to direct them to certain interests and we train them to acquire the skills they feel could better assist them in future. We are not really restricting the persons who are out there doing landscaping.”
Mr Wattley concluded: “Members of these clean-up crews have the opportunity to move out into other areas of training. As a matter of fact we try to encourage them to do so. They also have the chance to remain in landscaping and get better training.”  
One such clean-up crew is the Monkey Hill, St. Peter’s STEP Clean-up Crew whose group leader Ms Sharita Merritt noted that while the STEP interns are gaining valuable experience, they are also doing a great service to the area by keeping it clean. The men handle weed-eaters and machetes while the women handle the rakes.
“We cut grass from Ogee Ghaut and it goes right down to the airport road by the tower,” said Ms Merritt. “We also do New Road, but we just stay on the main road. We mostly stay on the main road, but once we deal with it, we go into the village and we do the cleaning.”
The Group Leader added: “The people in the community like how we are keeping the area clean, because this is the main attraction for Monkey Hill. Ogee Ghaut is a tourist attraction site and when tourists are passing to go there they admire not only the cleanliness of the area but also the work we are doing and they stop and see how we are cutting the grass.”
According to Ms Merritt, all those in her crew are looking forward to be self-employed and are thankful for the training they are receiving. She further observed that when opportunities for advanced training in landscaping will be available, they will be happy to avail themselves.
STEP Field Supervisor in charge of the group Mr Damian Weekes also confirmed that the group is not designed to have the interns cutting lawns and doing landscaping for ever. He noted that they will be given opportunities to train further not only in landscaping but also other areas like electrical, plumbing, carpentry etc.
“Whatever skill they are interested in they will get trained, and then they will be able to go in the workforce now with that certificate to say, well, hey I am a certified electrician,” noted Mr Weekes. “So they will be able to go in the workforce now and look for a better paying job, a different job than the landscaping in the community of St. Peter’s.”
He further noted that if someone decides to remain in landscaping, they will be trained as well. He added: “We encourage people to get some resources, a loan or whatever and they buy a weed-eater or a lawn mower and they start their own business. We have people who started small and now they have got a dynasty just by starting with one, two, three yards; you know some people got contracts doing big projects.”

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