BY WAYNE CHARGUALAF
Although the economic promise of the military buildup has dominated the direction of Guam’s labor market the past few years, Roy Gamboa, business services representative for the Guam Department of Labor, said it’s also important to be prepared for what comes after.
“It is difficult [to predict future job markets] but we also have to anticipate a lot of these jobs,” Gamboa said.
One solution being pursued by the Department of Labor, according to Gamboa, is to train people for jobs that will find use during the buildup but will also likely transfer into the post-buildup job market such as logistics, warehousing, IT and telecom.
“What we don’t want to do is put all our eggs in one basket, train everybody into construction, and then when the build-up dwindles down, you’re going to have all these people with skills and not enough jobs to sustain them,” he said.
According to the Guam Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of March 2019 there are 6,760 workers in the construction field.
Currently, however, the primary concern for the Department of Labor remains the buildup, which it seeks to accommodate through partnerships with local schools and organizations such as Guam Community College as well as the American Jobs Center in Bell Tower Plaza in Anigua.
American Jobs Centers are a network of organizations created by the U.S. Department of Labor to provide a full range of assistance to job seekers, such as training referrals, career counseling, job listings and similar employment-related services. American Jobs Centers work closely with local businesses to match workers to jobs and also collect data which is used to analyze job markets and make forecasts.
“One of the big things is going to be truck drivers,” Gamboa said. “The Port Authority is extremely busy, but there are going to be tons and tons of containers coming in. So there could potentially be a shortage of truck drivers down the road. What we’ve done to bridge that gap was work with our partners such as Guam Community College to develop truck driver boot camps or heavy operator boot camps.”
Of course, there is a job market apart from construction and other trades closely associated with the military buildup. One of the fields for which the island continues to have a persistent shortage is the medical field, especially with medical doctors and nurses.
“Construction workers are more of a cyclical issue, whereas the shortage of nurses has been fairly chronic for as long as I can remember,” Gary Hiles, chief economist for the Guam Department of Labor, said. “I think in part that’s due to the nature of the occupation. It takes a long time to get trained for it. Also, the pay is not generally adjusted sufficiently to attract people that could do that job.”
According to Hiles, a past example of a critical shortage of labor on the island that was successfully dealt with was a shortage of teachers.
“There was a chronic shortage of teachers that had education for many years, if not decades, and they used to go and recruit in the states,” he said. “In my view, two things happened — one, at the low pay, the number of people that wanted to train for it was limited because there were many other things you could do with that level of ability and work for that pay. Also, there wasn’t a
specific teacher training program, so it was harder to get qualified.”
After a dramatic increase in teacher pay and the implementation of a teacher training program at the University of Guam, the island was able to develop enough teachers that the Department of Education no longer had to recruit from the U.S. mainland.
In 2018, to recruit more doctors, Guam entered into compact agreements with other states in the mainland U.S. that will allow medical providers’ licenses to be accepted in multiple jurisdictions. There are currently more than 420 licensed medical providers on Guam.
“If you’re a physician in another state, you’ll be able to come to Guam and endorse that license immediately, so that you don’t have to go through all the processing,” Zennia Cruz Pecina, administrator for the Health Professional Licensing Office under the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services, said. Guam is currently aiming to enter into a nurse licensure compact which would operate similarly.
“We’re just waiting for the public hearing on that,” Cruz Pecina said. “Currently, we have 34 states in that compact. When they pass that law, Guam will be the first territory to be in the compact, which will open the door to two million nurses who could come to Guam.”
As far as Guam’s labor market overall, the most recent Guam Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the unemployment rate at 4.6% as of June 2019, which is up from the 3.6% rate in Sept. 2018 but still lower than the 5.8% rate in Sept. 2017.
“Generally, the unemployment [for Guam] has followed the U.S. trend of pretty continuously declining unemployment over the last decade or so and relatively low unemployment,” Hiles said. “There’s still some labor availability, but not a huge surplus. Another trend that’s been less noticed — both in Guam and the U.S. — has been a declining labor force participation rate.”
The labor participation rate is the number of people of working age who are employed or actively seeking work.
According to Hiles, there are a variety of reasons why people may not actively seek work. For instance, teenagers of working age may not have to seek work because their families and social network are able to sustain them, which means they can focus more on school. Similarly, if in a two-parent household, one parent makes enough money to sustain the entire family, one parent may opt to stay home and care for their children.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. mbj