Jamaica: technical education creates opportunities

The world’s largest FACT training centre opens in Kingston

It took a great deal of perseverance on the part of the initiators in Jamaica and Germany, but it was worth the effort. Since September 2018, young engineers and mechatronics technicians are being trained in the shadow of the former pirate port of Kingston, Jamaica. These students are a source of hope for the economic development of this emerging Caribbean state.

Goran Miladinov has had to listen to plenty of comments from naysayers. He defended himself against the teasing in the corridors at Festo – the allusions to reggae, dreadlocks and Caribbean temperatures – but secretly he was often unsure of his cause. "Fritz," he texted, "I’ve visited you so many times! How much longer do we want to carry on?" The answer from Jamaica: "You have to believe in us! Send me the report again!" So the Festo Didactic salesman once again wrote a proposal and emailed it to his business partner Fritz Pinnock in Jamaica – for the 90th time. This story is about the other 89 times.

It begins on a sandy peninsula opposite the Jamaican Port of Kingston. If you drive along the coastal freeway, you’ll see the planes climbing into the air behind the cargo ships. Since 1984, the former pirate hideout has been home to a training ground for naval officers – the Jamaica Maritime Training Institute (JMTI) was founded in 1980 with Norwegian support. The Norwegians also built similar training centres in nine other ports across the globe. Only the Jamaican one survived.

St. Gallen: the idea strikes

In 2001, the school was renamed the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI), had branch offices in other Caribbean countries, and trained not only sailors, but also firefighters and flight personnel. But technology develops even faster internationally. The Jamaicans have long been driving cars that can no longer be repaired by mechanics in Kingston. 7 Up and Pepsi prefer to bring their own skilled workers with them to bottle their soft drinks locally. As a result, the unemployment rate in Jamaica rose sharply in the early 2000s. One third of all 15 to 24-year-olds at the time was unemployed. An increasing number of young men saw crime as the only remaining career opportunity. Life expectancy fell.

This was the time when Fritz Pinnock – the name is deceiving as he is 100% Jamaican – became director of the CMI. The then 39-year-old studied and received his doctorate in England, had already travelled halfway around the world as a port authority envoy and wants his two daughters to have more than just the opportunity to study law. So, in the summer of 2003, three of his employees set off for St. Gallen. At the 37th WorldSkills competition, they want to see what technical skills young people in Europe are learning. One area of the competition immediately catches their eye at the ‘vocational Olympics’: workpieces seem to be moving as if by magic and the teams are programming away at high speed. These are state-of-the-art mechatronics stations from Festo.

The trio returned to Jamaica, raving about what they saw. But for Fritz Pinnock, that wasn't enough. He contacts Festo Didactic himself and wants to know more about the laboratory and workshop equipment that the company offers. And above all else, he wants to modernise the laboratory containers for electrical engineering and pneumatics. The cost: 300,000 US dollars. This is when Pinnock begins to submit a series of applications to the PetroCaribe Development Fund.

San Salvador: a new era in logistics

Fritz Pinnock’s contact at Festo is Goran Miladinov. When the lack of funding becomes clear, Goran suggests taking the next flight to Panama and from there on to El Salvador: "So you can see what else we can do, other than just setting up a nice laboratory for you!" This is because the Central American country of El Salvador is already a big step ahead; three laboratories for mechatronics, process and factory automation have been created here thanks to a PPP project between the government, GTZ (now GIZ), Siemens and Festo. Festo Didactic created a hands-on training course and trained the trainers.

And that’s not all. In the following years, the Instituto Tecnológico Centroamericano (ITCA) became the first FACT Centre (Festo Authorized Certified Training Centre) to be officially accredited as a university of cooperative education. On the recommendation of Festo, the ITCA also offers course modules for industry. Siemens is the first customer to book training courses here for its employees. Fritz flies to El Salvador, and is inspired by the idea. By this time, the ITCA is doing extremely well, and not only because the industrial training generates a regular income. It also connects the institute with industrial partners, and the institute learns which technologies companies work with and incorporates these topics into its curriculum.

Back in Jamaica, Fritz contacts Goran and requests a new offer. In addition to the three new laboratories, he wants Festo Didactic to develop a training programme. The total value of the project thus rises to one million US dollars. Pinnock speaks to the Ministry of Transport. He sees great opportunities for mechatronics engineers, especially in the logistics sector. He is convinced that Kingston Port will become a hub for international freight transport. "Traditional engineers are no longer relevant," he argues. "Mechatronics engineers, on the other hand, are multidisciplinary. They are experts in control technology as well as mechanical and electrical engineering, and programming."

Uruguay and Mexico: now more than ever

Fritz Pinnock hopes that the ministry will promote the new plan at the PetroCaribe Development Fund. He campaigns for his idea at every opportunity. He writes articles, gives interviews and lectures, everything make it clear how important it is to align local education with international standards: "Our young people should no longer have to hope for a scholarship and go abroad to earn a recognised degree! And if we can offer skilled workers, we will also attract investors to the country. Last but not least, we save ourselves the need to fly in expensive experts."

But nothing happens. Pinnock is received and listened to, but his application for funding never goes through. In the meantime, the second FACT Centre opens in Uruguay in 2012. But in Jamaica at the CMI, the trainees are still working with equipment from the 1980s, and every year it’s the same story. Many graduate, but not all.

The tragic circumstances of individual trainees drive Pinnock to bombard the PetroCaribe Fund with further applications. By this time he’s looking to obtain two million dollars. This is because Fritz learned that Festo was building a smart training factory for a renowned university in Mexico. He tells the astonished Goran in Esslingen: "Add such a laboratory to our offer. At two million, they’ll take us seriously!"

In Jamaica: the 91st application is approved

After all the ups and downs, it’s the change of government in 2016 that gives Fritz new hope – Prime Minister Andrew Holness, for whom PLCs and Industry 4.0 are not foreign concepts, supports Fritz’s vision. Even the opposition party suddenly backs the project. And then Fritz actually receives the development agency’s promise: they agree to bear half the costs. It’s his 91st application.

But for Fritz, this is just a partial victory. In the meantime, he’s done much more than just write applications. He now has five departments, an academically certified teaching staff and he obtains university accreditation. And now, as the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), opportunities are opened up for very different sources of funding. When Goran wants to send the equipment that has finally been approved to set up the three new laboratory containers, Fritz stops the whole delivery. "They’ve authorised a new building for us!" he cheers from across the Atlantic.

For an entire year, all the equipment from Festo Didactic earmarked for Jamaica sits in a hall in Esslingen. At Festo, people are already starting to worry about what the auditor will say when he sees incoming payments for goods that have not been delivered. But in the end, everything works out for the best. When the opening ceremony for the world’s largest FACT centre is held on 19 September 2018, everyone is there, even the small group that travelled to St. Gallen back in 2003. And a trainer from the FACT Centre in El Salvador. René Flores moved to Jamaica and, as director of the local FACT Centre at CMU, is now responsible for the trainers there. Even before the official opening, Pepsi books their first training session, and immediately recruits a future trainer. This doesn’t bother Fritz or Goran. "It shows that we are on the right track!" The two of them seem to have big plans for the future.

The FACT Centre in Jamaica

FACT – Festo Authorized and Certified Training Centre
at the Caribbean Maritime University in Kingston, Jamaica


Palisadoes Park
Norman Manley Highway
P.O. Box 8081 CSO Kingston