BY RIANNE PEREDO
Filling apprenticeship spots continues to be a challenge, despite a long list of where Guam’s needs are when it comes to filling local jobs.
The Guam Department of Labor compiles an annual list of “demand occupations,” which totaled 314 as of fiscal 2019.
The list includes jobs in the construction and telecommunications industries, such as cable splicers; cable television installers; estimators and drafters; and welders.
Other jobs on the list are in the healthcare industry, which include certified nursing assistants and medical laboratory technicians.
Educational institutions in Guam that offer apprenticeship programs are the Guam Community College and the Guam Contractors Association Trades Academy.
Student enrollment and interest in GCC’s apprenticeship program for jobs in the hospitality industry have been consistent. The duration of apprenticeship training varies from two to four years. However, there have been some shifts in interest regarding other enrollment in recent years.
“In the past couple years, where there’s been a significant increase, really, is in telecommunications,” said Mary A. Okada, president of GCC.
“Where we’re struggling — I want to say a little bit — might be the construction side.”
The budget for GCC’s apprenticeship program is a combination of grants from various partner organizations, as well as local funding appropriations, such as the Manpower Development Fund.
GCC also received a grant from the American Association of Community Colleges; in addition, an extension request has been submitted by the Guam DOL for the apprenticeship program’s Expansion Grant.
David Dell’Isola, director of the Guam Department of Labor, told the Journal in a separate Sept. 24 interview that GDOL would work with UOG, GCC and some service providers to get people “re-trained or apprenticeships into demand occupations.”
Dell’Isola emphasized that Guam receives to the Manpower Development Fund “$,2000 for every single H-2 person that comes in per year. … We’re talking some huge dollars.” Massey said in the same interview, while H-2 numbers were low during denials by USCIS, they have risen again. “I think this year we’re looking at something like $4-something million.”
Though there is no approval yet, Dell’Isola said DOL had applied for $12 million in federal dislocated worker grant funding.
“That $12 million will be used for those people who have been laid off because of COVID to go into demand occupations, he said, mentioning additional demand occupations such as “shipyard, heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, medical billing and coding, certified nursing assistants — these are the types of jobs that are in demand and pay well. We will train them either to get a quick certification, or the initial training and put them into an apprenticeship. We will pay for those things.” Such jobs would not only pay a living wage, but would also not be subject to the “ups and downs” of tourism. Those who did want to stay in tourism, he said, could add to their skill set and “learn how to do multiple jobs so that you become more valuable. …”
However, he said the administration of that funding would be a massive effort.
“That’s going to be a huge undertaking, if we get awarded for the retraining and upscaling of people that have been laid off in COVID.”
According to DOL, the Guam Registered Apprenticeship Program provides tax credits incentives to eligible businesses that employ apprentices who are duly enrolled and registered in the program. An eligible business can avail of tax credits against its gross receipts tax liability equal to 50% of the eligible training costs paid or incurred by the business.
Eligible training costs are direct wages of apprentices; direct fringe benefits (medical and dental insurance); journeyman’s wages (“on the job” training); instructor costs (academic and trade theory), training costs (books and tuition); and personal protective equipment.
Additionally, eligible businesses must not be recipients of a Qualifying Certificate from the Guam Economic Development Authority.
Regarding Guam’s job vacancies, Okada said there is an imbalance.
“I would say there are more vacancies than there are individuals to fill [them] and that’s the reason why they’re bringing in H-2B [workers] or they try to bring in the additional off-island workers,” she said.
“I think there’s still room for more individuals that are on island to take advantage of getting certifications in higher level positions — very specialized areas.”
Student enrollment for GCC’s apprenticeship program fluctuate each semester as well, with numbers dropping overall.
“Spring 2019, for example, not too far back. We had about 117 apprentices; Fall 2018 was plus one, so, 118,” said Okada. “And then in Spring , which was just last semester, we had 141 apprentices; and then of course due to COVID … for Fall  we only have 107.”
In previous years, enrollment has dropped annually as well.
The pandemic has impacted GCC’s apprenticeship program significantly; prior to the pandemic, in-person instruction was a vital component. In March, the transition to online learning for its courses involved compromise and adjustments between the college and its students.
“The pandemic has created a challenge, but also an opportunity,” Okada said. “As we start to continue into this pandemic, I think we’re refining what it means in terms of remote learning or distance learning … but also giving the college the opportunity to identify the courses that truly can be delivered online, in a different platform, so that students can have the option of taking the online [courses] versus the ‘hands-on’ [courses].”
In July, the program expanded to include paramedic training in collaboration with the Guam Fire Department; allied health is another focus for future expansion.
Student enrollment at the GCA Trades Academy, a non-profit and non-government organization that provides craft training in the construction industry, has been negatively affected due to the pandemic.
“For the past several months, it’s been terrible,” said Herbert J. Johnston Jr., education director of GCA Trades Academy. “Our classes require ‘hands-on’ activities and it makes it really, really difficult when you’ve got a stay at home order. We tried to modify it as best we can, but we’re not gonna certify people … unless we’ve actually had them and seen them do ‘hands-on’ activities to see they can do it.”
The academy is funded by student tuition fees, local funding appropriations via the Manpower Development Fund and from partner organizations, such as the Guam DOL and WestCare.
“There’s a wide range of sources of funds out there; about a quarter of our students pay for it on their own,” said Johnston.
According to Johnston, the electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning fields are ones that students seem to be interested in.
“We don’t have semesters; we don’t have normal graduations. People finish the program, in a lot of cases, without a ceremony,” said Johnston. “They get their credentials and they’re employed and they’re [working]. … In some cases, some of these people don’t need [to complete] the entire program; all they need is a couple years of training and they’re gainfully employed and satisfied with that.”
As of Sept. 23, classes are ongoing while the academy’s offices remained closed, with Johnston and other staff members who can, working remotely. – Maureen N. Maratita contributed to this story. mbj