Cuba’s Small Businesses are Short on Skilled Employees

Deciding not to rely on a hired employee puts limitations on private businesses / 14ymedio

The mass exodus harms private entrepreneurs in Cuba

By Natalia Lopez Moya (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – Regular customers of a privately owned bakery on San Lázaro Street in Central Habana were surprised this week to see the owner of the business both kneading dough and working the counter. “The cook left the country, so this is now a one-woman show,” explains the entrepreneur, one of many who have been hit by the exodus affecting Cuba’s private-sector economy.

“This is the third cook I’ve lost since I opened,” says the woman, who owns a shop specializing in breads, desserts and cookies. “He was making money here but, of course, it doesn’t compare… He had signed up for the US humanitarian parole program* last year and they just told him that it had been granted. From the time he found out until the time he left was less than a week. I didn’t have time to look for someone else.”

The employee’s departure has had a very negative impact on the bakery’s profits. “I can no longer take orders for weddings or parties because I can’t keep up. Also, I have had to limit the types of bread that I sell. I’ve lost thousands of pesos in a few days compared to the sales I had in previous months.”

To avoid unwelcome surprises after training an employee in the ins-and-outs of their operations, many small and medium-sized business owners prefer to rely on their own family members. “Here we have my wife, my two daughters and me,” says Luis Mario, owner of a shop specializing in birthday buffets in Havana’s Cerro district. “I feel more secure because nothing happens from one day to the next without me finding out about it.”

Last year, we hired a courier. If he made ten deliveries a day, it was a lot. One day, I come into work only to find out that he had left for Nicaragua en route north” he says. “I had to make the rest of the home deliveries that week, and I then decided that I wasn’t going to hire anyone else who could leave me in the lurch overnight.”

He notes, however, that his two daughters are awaiting approval of their “humanitarian parole” application from the United States, but that he will find out “well before they get on the plane.” If the two young women do manage to emigrate with their respective husbands and children, he and his wife will join them later. “When that time comes, I will liquidate everything and close up shop. But initially, when my daughters are no longer here, I will have to limit the number of orders I can accept.”

The strongest impacts of this massive flight occur when the émigré fulfills a specialized role: technicians in assembly or repair of equipment, chefs, nurses, pastry chefs, designers and other positions that require training and experience. “The pastry chef and the economy left me, so right now my business is closed,” laments Yusimi, owner of a cafeteria in Nuevo Vedado, municipality of the Plaza de la Revolución.

“The pastry chef was very good and young, the truth is that it seemed like a miracle that he was still in Cuba and now the miracle is over.” The employee who was in charge of accounting and invoices was a friend of the owner of the establishment since they were teenagers. “I can’t even be annoyed with either of them because I completely understand that they want to prosper out there and achieve their dreams, but I recognize that this has sunk me. I don’t know if I will be able to reopen.”

Among the questions that have been repeated most frequently in job interviews for months is, inevitably, the one that inquires about emigration: “Do you plan to leave the country soon?” Maria Eugenia, 57, was asked when she went to a home in El Vedado for an advertisement to care for a bedridden elderly woman. “I don’t like to lie, so I told them that my son had started the family reunification process for me to go to the United States,” she explains.

“And then the interview was over,” she concludes. “They were kind, but they told me that they couldn’t hire me because the lady was going to get used to me, she was going to get attached to me and, in the end, I was going to stay a short time.” But Maria Eugenia believes that this requirement is excessive: “Who right now in Cuba, at the age of being able to work, does not have some plan to leave here?” and she herself answers: “It could be a crazy plan, but you have one.”

“The best team is the one that is made up of only one,” says Fernando, a technician in installation and repair of air conditioning and refrigerators. “I worked for a couple of years with my son but now he is living in Las Vegas, I haven’t wanted to hire any other assistant because this is almost like a marriage, you have to adjust to the other person, synchronize yourself. If they leave you later, you’re lost.” Deciding not to have an employee brings limitations.

Fernando concludes: “There are jobs that I cannot accept, or I have to ask the client who hires me for help, but I prefer to go through that and not spend a day taking the tools on my motorcycle, a previous commitment to install air conditioning and an assistant who doesn’t arrive because he’s at the airport waiting to get on a plane.”

Translated by Anonymous and Regina Anavy for Translating Cuba.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

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