Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 26th 2015 Contents Despite experiencing a
shortfall in labour of 100
workers, an average of
six employees per store,
throughout its opera-
tions, Solomon Yufe and
Company Ltd or Yufe s
as it is known, is looking
to increase market share. While not disclosing
details of its plans, Yufe s wants to expand.
Yufe s has been existing since 1938 offering
products from fabric, to clothing, bed and bath
items, wall art to its customer base at its 15
locations employing 200 people.
Determined to grow the business, managing
director, Joan Achong-Low---at Yufe s for 23
years---spoke to Business Guardian last Friday,
to highlight how she planned to overcome the
challenge of sourcing labour while strategically
positioning Yufe s for growth.
The legal owners of Yufe s are Dr Boris Yufe
and Richard Yufe.
She spoke after the ceremony to open a new
outlet of Yufe s at 101 Saddle Road in Maraval
on 15,000 sq ft of land. The outlet offers its
customers not only textiles, but a high-end
line of lighting from Europe for household pur-
poses. Having a consistent supply of US cur-
rency is of utmost importance as most of its
imports comes from the United States and
Achong-Low said a shortage in labour can
have a domino effect on the operations of a
company resulting, in some cases, in embar-
rassment to the owners.
There is need for ethics to be taught at
schools as a life skill so when it s time for young
people to enter the job market, it becomes eas-
"You can t open 25 stores without having
reliable staff to help you turn the wheel. The
customers want assistance, when they come
to store, but we are embarrassed, the service
is terrible. They (young people seeking employ-
ment) don t know the basics of how to address
people, which was not a problem say, five years
ago. It is increasingly getting worse," she said.
As a result of her analysis of the local labour
market, Achong-Low said training at Yufe s is
a top priority.
Our workers get training on good customer
service, on how to cut fabric and, lastly, they
have to learn about what they are selling, the
type of fabric, how it is washed, its uses and
its fibre content.
Apart from competing to find workers with
high-quality ethic, businesses must now com-
pete with the Government s high wage levels
for less hours of work, she said.
Ease of operating a business is becoming a
turbulent road and prevented her from opening
other branches. Achong-Low is not worried
too much about T&T s economy as economies
globally are battling with almost the same
challenges as T&T.
"We do face a challenge with the Government
paying as much as the business owner. Before
taking the job people often ask what are you
paying, and we would say the same amount
a CEPEP worker gets. The person refuses saying
we would work for the Government then go
"I am heartened to hear that efforts are
underway by the Government hopefully to cut
down on the amount of people that they pay
(at the CEPEP programmes). They look as
though they are over staffed because there are
so many of them to clean a certain area,"
Offering a suggestion as to how labour should
be utilised in the CEPEP programme, she
said: "I ve always had the idea that what they
should do, is place two to four people on a
street depending on how big it is, and keep
them as regular workers on that street, so there
is no need for a gang of 24 people to do what
maybe two people can do."
Regarding the overall labour market, she said
the same amount of pay which the Government
is offering some businesses are offering.
"Workers are telling me that they are getting
$6,000 to $8,000 per month to be trained,
and here am I offering an employee who has
just walked out of university the same. We
have the jobs and we want the people but their
expectations are too high."
Gone are the days of workers having pride
in their work and it s now all about the money,
"All the workers want to know is how much
is this job paying? They are not offering to
work hard or have integrity, I want to learn-
you don t hear those things."
The other aspect of Yufe s external envi-
ronment which is posing a problem is the
lengthy time it takes to obtain approvals from
Town and Country to construct a building.
There is too much bureaucracy, she argued.
"It s a long waiting time," that has to occur.
Regarding the operations on the port, there
have been improvements.
"There are still a lot of problems in that I
find that our containers take four, sometimes
five days to clear and that should not be," she
Asked what is the
right work ethic a worker should have, she
said they should take their jobs, "seriously and
when they say I am working it means exactly
that, come to work to be productive. Unless,
there is a supervisor standing over someone,
the work is extremely slow."
Competition is not stiff for Yufe s.
"I do see a lot of competitors closing down.
I am not sure whether it is we are so good.
One competitor told me that we sell too cheap
and they can no longer make their mark-ups
so they are coming out of the business."
A female leader for more than two decades,
Achong-Low, believes there are not enough
women in leadership positions. Her perception
of women in leadership is: "If you look at all
my stores, with the exception to the Maraval
store, I have women running them. I believe
in the power of a woman that she can multi-
task, she can be creative and hardworking."
Achong-Low has two children: one is a
lawyer living in T&T and the other is a market
analyst with his own hedge fund.
In an interview with Business Guardian last
week Wednesday, Tertiary Education Minister
Fazal Karim said the ministry has been studying
the labour market and developments in it.
"The National Training Agency continues
to do reports by sectors, so we can, in fact, tell
you what the shortages in the various sectors
are. We have priority sectors (to fill vacancies),
for example we have the ICT sector, manu-
facturing, tourism. We have a number of sector
skills reports that will tell us the shortages."
He added: "I am not relying on any report,
I have started what I call Employer Round
Table discussions. For example the TTMA, the
Chambers of Commerce, all of those employer
organisations to meet with them, for them to
tell us what this labour shortage is, and how
as a Ministry we can respond to the labour
On the issue of importing labour, Karim said
when it comes to skilled imported labour, there
is greater need to learn from them. Regarding
the workers who are within the semi-skilled
and unskilled category, he said:
"We are going to be talking to them (the
business community). We are talking about
people who are in CEPEP, URP and the social
programmes. We are saying we can also assist
with that, with the manufacturers (and other
"When I meet with them I will show them
a model which I have developed, how we can
use programmes to compliment the workforce,
at that level, so we can elevate them to other
levels in terms of the supermarkets and man-
ufacturers and service sector."
BG4 COVER STORY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt MARCH 2015 • WEEK FOUR
Steady growth at Yufe's
Fabric at Yufe's. PHOTO: KRISTIAN DE SILVA
Joan Achong-Low, managing director, Solomon Yufe and Company Ltd.
PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR
• Shoppes of Arima
• Tumpuna Road, Arima
• Chaguanas Main Road
• Stanmore Avenue, PoS
• Cor George Cabral, Western Main Road,
• Cipero Street, San Fernando
• High Street, San Fernando
• Sangre Grande
• Trincity Mall
• Saddle Road, San Juan
• El Socorro Extension (south)
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