It was a hot, dry spring in Jamaica this year, so Wayde Marr, executive chairman of Vector Technology Institute, who frequently travels back and forth between his home in Florida and his home country of Jamaica, was glad to hear it raining outside his office window in Kingston as he discussed the modest beginnings of what has grown into a hub of the Jamaican IT industry.
When Marr and his colleagues founded the institution under the name Vector Design Limited, the technological landscape was quite different. The year was 1984, at the onset of the personal computing revolution, when brands like Commodore still competed against IBM and Apple in the home computing market. The company began as a computer repair and consulting service. With a prescient understanding of the importance the microprocessor was to have, Marr and his colleagues started providing professional IT training as well, building their curriculum around the hands-on, practical knowledge the company gleaned from working in the field. The training portion of the business eclipsed the service provider side and Vector Technology Institute was born.
These days, wireless Internet permeates major Jamaican cities and smartphones are a common sight. Jamaica’s tech sector is growing. But the IT industry is not immune to the economic realities of life in a country where the rate of exchange with the U.S. dollar is around 100 to 1, and a country that is just now beginning to recover from 2008’s worldwide economic downturn.
Against this difficult economic backdrop, Vector Technology Institute, which has since 1997 been a registered tertiary institution, still uses the latest practical knowledge about the industry to inform its IT training. Part that has been the recognizing the importance of certification in the IT industry both globally and locally.
“I think certifications play a major role in all of this, because certainly whatever we’re doing we want to ensure that there is this mark of quality – that our programs are meeting some form of international standards,” Marr said. “So that definitely has become part of our DNA.”
In 2012, Vector Technology Institute formed a relationship with the CompTIA Academy Partner Program, which has allowed the institution to fully integrate CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ certification exams into its degree programs so that students pursuing degrees don’t have the option to not get certified.
Working the certifications directly into the curriculum has helped Vector Technology Institute establish itself as the top academic institution in the Latin American and Caribbean region in terms of getting students to take CompTIA certification exams.
Programs like their partnership with CompTIA are now proving their worth. According to Rohan Morris, a long-time instructor at Vector Technology Institute, people know that IT education is a worthy investment, even in tough economic times.
“The main difficulty students have is the cost,” Morris said. “The cost of training. The cost of education. But it’s also greatly acknowledged that without it you don’t stand a chance. So the sacrifices are made.”
Alongside education and certification, Morris recommends that his students pursue their careers with a tenacious, all-in attitude.
“[Students] have to be bold,” Morris said. “Be innovative in their approach. If there’s a particular organization that you have a desire to work in, do your research on that organization, create your plan, ask what are the potential openings two or three years down the line and commit yourself to filling those positions.”
Basil Davidson, also a long-time instructor at Vector Technology Institute, has seen first-hand how Vector Technology Institute’s certification requirement has helped students make good on this advice and find placement in a competitive market.
“When [students] are qualified with their diploma or associates degree, they also have certification which is a more practical thing, along with their diploma,” Davidson said. “So hopefully they now have an edge in the job market when they get out there. And I think they have been successful.”
When students graduate Vector Technology Institute with degree and certification in hand, they still face hard choices. Many are put in the position to leave Jamaica for higher-paying jobs abroad. This is an ambiguous development for a place like Jamaica. On one hand, IT professionals are able to send money back to their families and spread the word globally that Jamaica is a place that cultivates top IT talent. On the other hand, there are the obvious concerns about both brain drain and social strain that arise from people having to leave their local economies and their families.
But that is not to say that there is no hope for finding jobs locally. According to Dean Smith, president of Jamaica Computer Society, a professional body that promotes the IT trade, new modes of IT work can keep talent local.
“There is an increase in the number of persons doing remote-jobbing, and that has cut the number of persons [who] see the need to sever ties locally and relocate overseas,” Smith said. “This trend will continue and accelerate when local professionals get more sophisticated in their organization and service offerings.”
This increase in telecommuting sophistication is springing up in tandem with new legislation and exciting new initiatives in Jamaica intended to promote IT development. Both Jamaica Computer Society and Vector Technology Institute play an important role in these.
The appointment of a national CIO, the creation of a national cybersecurity strategy and the promotion of IT governance all point to a potential renaissance in Jamaica’s IT field, alongside a slow but sure economic recovery.
“All of the areas [in the IT profession] are seeing upturns,” Marr said. “Barring anything unforeseen, everything seems like a thumbs up.”
With Jamaican IT on the rise, Vector Technology Institute is continuing to promote IT education, certification and the IT trade locally and globally; from promoting an understanding of the industry among the tech-savvy, smartphone wielding young people in middle and high schools to affecting change on the political level.
“I’m expecting us to [expand] with the rate and pace of technological change,” Marr said. “We want to [influence] the development of IT strategies at all levels, whether it’s through our students or from the organizational point of view to influence national policy. We actually see now that we’re getting to that point.”
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.