By Kyle Greenham
Leesa James is a 44-year-old mother of six, and has lived in Linden, Guyana for 26 years. Besides being at the top of the class in Linden Technical Institute’s heavy equipment operating and maintenance program, she is also the only female student.
James says the driving factor that keeps her focused is her desire to provide for her family.
“Sometimes it’s a bit challenging, but I manage because of the goal I have set,” James said. “I need a proper job to maintain myself and my family. That is the main reason why I’m here, so I can earn an honest dollar and take care of my family.”
James was one of 10 women initially brought into the program through Guyana’s mining industry. Now she is the only female in a trades program dominated by men, but she is not fazed by it.
“I don’t find it intimidating,” James said. “I feel great because it is a bunch of young men that all could’ve been my children, so the respect is there, and I don’t feel less of myself being around them.”
Rapheal Alberts, 20, had signed on to LTI’s motor vehicle program while the institution’s workshop was in the midst of getting its needed improvements. Alberts can still recall when the workshop had lights but no ceiling, with the sun’s heat directly beaming on the class. It doesn’t help that Linden is situated so close to the equator.
“We had fans at that time, but they didn’t really help,” he said with a laugh.
After his first three months in the school, Alberts transferred into the new heavy equipment operating and maintenance program.
“This program captures everything,” he said. “We deal with electrical and diesel engines, which we didn’t get to do with our motor vehicle work.”
James has also seen the shop vastly improve through the partnership with College of the North Atlantic and Marine Institute. But like her instructor D’Nell Boyce, she sees the need for a functioning piece of heavy equipment.
“We have to do a lot more practical work to make ourselves competent, and without a machine we can’t (fully) do that,” she said.
Pierre Giroux, Canada’s High Commissioner in Guyana, has had an extensive role in international relationships involving the Government of Canada for several years. He has taken note that the partnership had a major impact in helping LTI redefine itself and its future.
“It has given a new confidence to the institution,” Giroux said. “That they can further become a centre of excellence in the region.”
“In a country that has been state-driven for 50 years, there is an attitude of un-empowerment,” Giroux said. “This model of working with the private sector to define and achieve their needs, that they can be responsive to the market and now just the directives of ministry of education – hopefully they will be able to replicate this model.”
Elizabeth Vincent, CNA’s Manager of International Business, also noted this change of confidence in the school, as they began to ask for outside help from industry.
“Once they learned that most large corporations have social responsibility policies to invest in their communities, they realized it is something industry recognizes. Secondly, preparing students to be work-ready graduates is key to the growth of an economy and allows industry to play an important role in the development of new programs and curriculums through corporate investment,” said Vincent. “Seeing is believing. Once the community supported the school through donations, program oversight and engagement with the school, the faculty and staff felt empowered and motivated.”
Both James and Alberts are hopeful to stay in Guyana after completing the program, but are prepared to work abroad if the opportunity arises. Giroux says Guyana’s current government recognizes the need to keep its citizens working in the country, particularly with the expected rise in employment opportunities directly tied into oil and gas development.
“The world is catching up very fast,” said Giroux. “The government recognizes the need for skilled labour.”