With hundreds of millions of dollars heading to Guam in the form of new military construction projects the major dilemma facing contractors both large and small is finding a skilled work force able to fill those new jobs.

Ramping up Guam’s work force to meet the requirements has Guam Community College and the Guam Contractors’ Association working hand-in-hand to establish an entry-level pre-apprenticeship program. The scheme is designed to allow new workers to test a trade before large amounts of money are expended.

John R. Rider academic vice-president at Guam Community College told the Journal that apprenticeship is a two-way street in that the school and the employer must work together. “The fundamental principle behind apprenticeship is that an apprentice must be employed in order to be an apprentice.”

Rider said as the island’s economy declined in the ‘90s so did its work force. “Guam has lost a third of its work force and as the construction industry evaporated so went apprentices. But now that we anticipate activity to grow in the trades industry I would expect the apprenticeship roles to increase significantly.”

Sen. Carmen Fernandez chairperson of the Committee on Education and Housing of the 27th Guam Legislature invited members of the contractors’ association and the college to a roundtable discussion on Nov. 12. The meeting was to talk about issues surrounding the need for skilled workers and the apprenticeship program. It was there that plans for a pre-apprenticeship program were unveiled.

During that meeting Herominiano “Hermie” delos Santos president of the college reported that as a result of the Guam Workforce & Economic Development Summit held Oct. 11-13 at the Guam Marriott Resort an earlier rift between the college and the contractors’ association was mended (See “Apprenticeship shock ” in the Aug. 9 issue of the Journal.). He said both organizations were moving toward a solution to securing skilled workers for what he called a very busy time ahead.

“These federal contracts pose a unique challenge in this post 9/11 security environment. Because H-2 workers can’t be employed we must use this as an opportunity to train our own people. The college is mandated through its apprenticeship training to do that ” delo Santos said. “That is why the pre-apprenticeship program is important so we can get these potential workers looking at construction trades as a possible career ladder.”

James A. Martinez executive director of the Guam Contractors’ Association said that with an estimated $3.2 billion in military construction projects planned for Guam 2 000 to 3 000 new workers would be needed in the next five to seven years.

“With the new jobs that are coming we have to begin getting our people interested in the construction field. One way to do that is through a pre-apprentice program that begins in high school in order to feed the needs of the industry ” he said. “The pre-apprentice program is also open to the thousands that have registered with the Department of Labor looking for work that can be quickly trained as trade helpers fulfilling immediate hiring needs. It is very flexible.”

“Then an employer will be able to find those [employees] that demonstrate that they are really interested in furthering their career in the construction industry. The employer and the college can more wisely use scarce training dollars for full enrollment in the college’s apprentice program.”

Karen M. Storts safety officer at Reaction Co. and president of the contractors’ association said “Manpower on island was dramatically reduced during the quiet times and now it is time to gear up. A lot of good workers moved off island so we don’t have those resources. That is what this [pre-apprentice] fast track program is all about. It will give potential apprentices a taste of the trade before a commitment of time and resources is made by all parties concerned.”

Storts said it was also incumbent upon members of the contractors’ association to become better at marketing the trades. “We need to proactively show the progression of a career from a helper to a trades executive or owner. If we do it smartly then we will rebuild our labor pool.”

John M. Robertson president of AmOrient Engineering and chairman of the Government Affairs and Labor Committee of the contractors’ association told the Journal the college and the association have embarked on a new course for the future when it comes to apprenticeship training. “The association is looking at soon hiring an education and training officer whose job it will be to encourage young adults and those who are unemployed to give the various construction skills a try.”

Thomas E. Andersen Jr. executive vice president and general manager of Black Construction Corp. said he was pleased with the new direction. “The pre-apprentice idea is good because the apprenticeship program is suffering. There are not enough people in the program itself so classes can’t be taught. We have to get people into it.”

The apprenticeship program receives money via the Manpower Development Fund. A percentage of fees collected from H-2 employers at the rate of $200 per person is to go from the fund to the college.

“I think there is a problem in collection and a problem in accounting. We haven’t received MDF money for years ” Rider said. “For a while we funded it out of our own resources and said we’ll be reimbursed later but later never came.”

Rider credited Maria S. Connelly acting director at the Guam Department of Labor for working out a method to use federal workforce investment money to pay tuition and books for apprentices at the college.

In fiscal 2004 $80 000 was appropriated to GCC to pay for training but the money never reached the school. The 27th Guam Legislature appropriated $39 000 for the fiscal 2005 program. As reported by the Journal in its Aug. 9 story an investigation by the attorney general’s office is ongoing as to why those appropriated sums have not reached the college.

“We are carrying the $80 000 as a receivable and whether we ever receive that money is doubtful ” Rider said. “A new approach with a new legislature is probably our best bet now. Workforce development translates into economic development and I believe this new [Republican-controlled] group understands this.”

A proposed piece of legislation Bill No. 234 authored by Sen. Frank B. Aguon Jr. vice speaker and chairman of the Committee on Appropriations and Budgeting General Government Operations Reorganization and Reform of the 27th Guam Legislature would give gross receipts tax relief to employers that employ and train apprentices.

Mathews Pothen president and chief executive officer of Guam Industrial Services which does business as Guam Shipyard relies heavily on skilled labor. He said the shipyard was the driving force behind Aguon’s proposed legislation. If passed and enacted into law before the end of this legislature’s term on Dec. 31 the government could enter into an agreement that allowed the shipyard to pay $500 000 to the college to fund the fledging apprenticeship program.

Aguon told the Journal that he hopes to have the legislation placed on the agenda for the final scheduled session of the 27th Guam Legislature in December. MBJ