CAPITOL HILL Saipan — The CNMI Workforce Investment Agency has started to expand partnerships with different business groups including the Saipan Chamber of Commerce to integrate the local work force into mainstream employment.

An internship program has begun that allows employers to pay trainees half the rate on condition that they are hired full-time by the end of the program.

The program enables businesses to save on employment costs if they opt to hire guest workers for the position instead — close to $300 in labor processing and insurance bonding excluding airfare from country of origin to the CNMI.

Jesse Stein executive director of the WIA told the Journal that his office has received $700 000 in fresh funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Training and Administration that would be used in various WIA programs including the internships.

He said more funding is due by October.

“We are taking this new funding and breaking it into the separate programs. Because it is almost the end part of the year we want to invest on existing programs ” Stein told the Journal. By law employers in the CNMI are required to have 20% of their work force composed of local U.S. citizens. “Our goal is to raise that 20% hiring requirement to a higher level; say 30%. And the only way to do that is by having people trained. It’s essential to have qualified people ” Stein said adding that WIA has been coordinating with the Northern Marianas College for the training modules.

Stein said the feedback so far from businesses is good. “We have a lot of good results ” he said.

Through what is called “customized training ” WIA acts as a liaison between businesses and local residents by “matching the individual’s desire in employment with what’s existing out there.” Under the customized training program WIA reimburses half the amount an employer had spent for the trainee’s salary during the period the individual was working for the company. “This is because of the extraordinary cost of the person doing the training ” Stein said.

The contract stipulates that the employer should hire the trainee at the end of the internship. Length of internship varies according to the skills required.

Stein said the customized training program is not without challenges.

For one he said most companies at present are feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. “Businesses are willing but we have to negotiate a comfortable starting level ” he said. He said entry level is “usually at $5 an hour.”

Another area of concern is the trainees themselves.

“We are dealing with persons needing great assistance for them to be in the right career path ” he said noting that some have little education while others have difficulty adjusting to an employed life. “It takes time to nurture those things — individual needs availability of employment and partnership with business organizations ” Stein said.

WIA has about 100 trainees in different certification programs — mostly vocational courses like the hemodialysis training with the Commonwealth Health Center where there are 15 interns. Other programs are air conditioning and refrigeration; computer courses; and on-the-job training.

After completing the courses the intern decides whether to take the customized training or not.

There are about 10 WIA interns undergoing customized training with various businesses including hotels. Aside from the chamber WIA also has partnerships with DFS Galleria Saipan and Pacific Islands Club Saipan.

Stein also has been working with the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands on the program. Among HANMI member hotels involved in the customizedtraining program are Century Hotel Saipan World Resort Dai-Ichi Hotel Saipan Beach and Hyatt Regency Hotel. MBJ