BY EMILY MEIDENBAUER
Construction companies in Guam are struggling with a significant skilled labor shortage, but Guam’s training and apprenticeship programs are striving to fill that need in construction and other fields.
Guam Community College offers a wide range of “boot camp” courses. These specialized courses are 12-weeks long on average.
Previously, GCC has offered these courses in construction, ship repair, and truck driving. Upcoming courses include medical coding and billing, diesel mechanics, caregiving, HVAC, surveyor technology, home healthcare, safety, cybersecurity and a temporary certified nursing assistant program.
“We have a huge need for people in three industries,” said Denise Mendiola, assistant director of continuing education and workforce development for GCC. “The first one is in construction, and then we have a big need for those in healthcare, and then we also have a huge need in transportation, trucking, shipping, air, all of the movement of goods. We need people badly. Especially truck drivers.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the estimated rate of employment in Guam per 1,000 jobs is approximately 84.603 for construction and extraction operations, and 5.151 for heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers.
Mendiola said 100% of the cost of bootcamps are covered by grants, including the CARES Act for healthcare-related programs, the Guam Economic Development Authority, and the Manpower Development Fund.
Mendiola said the purpose of the bootcamp programs is to train unemployed and underemployed local residents to that they will be able to be employed in the industries they’re training for.
“Basically, what we help them do is create a pathway,” she said. “We talk to them in the very beginning; [and ask] what are you interested in, what do you want to be?”
The GCC bootcamp program partners with the Guam Department of Labor. The American Jobs Center receives inquiries from people that need to apply for jobs. If an application has the right experience or interests, they are connected to the bootcamp program and led through the vetting process, which includes assuring that prospective students have a high school diploma, that they are local residents, and that they can pass a health clearance. They are then interviewed, asked about their interests, and their current work status is examined. Once students secure employment and are accepted into their program of choice, the work begins.
“Once you get hired, we work with the employers so that they’re involved,” said Mendiola. “They become an employer with the apprenticeship program, which is the ultimate goal with these employers because it allows the students that are now going to be their employees to work with experienced employees, and they are mentored in the workplace. They come to school in the evenings and during the day they’re getting hands-on experience.”
The GCC bootcamp program also partners with employers like Black Construction Corp and Cabras Marine Corp.
Whenever we’re going to do a bootcamp, we make sure to contact the employers ahead and let them know this is something we’re planning on doing,” Mendiola said. “We ask them, ‘What do you need? What do you want them to be when they exit this program? What would you hire them as?’”
In terms of attendance, Mendiola said the most recent construction bootcamp started with 25 students and 21 completed the course; 11 students completed the recent truck driving course, and 18 completed the ship repair apprenticeship.
According to Journal files, total apprenticeship numbers at GCC have dropped annually.
“A lot of times, you’re weeding out the ones who are not serious or the ones that you know are not ready,” she said. “You really have to be ready if you’re going to go through this training.”
According to Mendiola, bootcamp programs also existed pre-pandemic, and there has not been much of a difference in attendance between then and now.
“It’s the image,” Mendiola said, regarding the challenges of finding, training and hiring skilled labor. “The image of the construction industry is that of a dirty, hot environment, working hard for low wages. The image needs to change, and that’s going to come from the employer organizations, it’s going to come from the training entities such as GCC, and the Guam Contractors Association trades academy.”
The GCA Trades Academy offers similar courses to the GCC bootcamp programs, however the trades academy was specifically designed for an apprenticeship program, according to Elizabeth Ann LG Aguero, program administrator at the academy.
The trades academy offers trainings in project management, safety, heavy equipment operations, electronics systems technology, electrical, HVAC, carpentry, construction craft labor, welding and plumbing.
Students enrolled in the Trades Academy work during the day as part of the apprenticeship program, and they attend classes during evenings and weekends. Though the required number of hours varies per program, students will log approximately 144 classroom hours and 2000 on-the-job hours per year.
“We have partnerships with our members,” said Francine Taitague, safety, training, and education coordinator for GCA. “GCA is a non-profit organization, and we have almost 500 members. All of our apprentices are under companies that are GCA members.”
According to Journal files, an eligible business can use 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.
Aguero said the trades academy has more than 200 students, and at least half of them are apprentices.
“In order to be an apprentice, you have to be working,” she said. “You have to be shadowed by someone your company deems competent, or you’re shadowed by a journeyman. The idea behind this is for [students] to apprentice to become journeymen.”
The journeyman certification that students receive after the apprenticeship program comes directly from DOL. Upon completion, students also receive certification from the trades academy with the National Center for Construction and Education Research, a nationally accredited curriculum. This allows students to take their certifications anywhere.
Classes through the Trades Academy are funded through the Manpower Development Fund, and are of no cost to students. During the apprenticeship, students are working and receiving pay.
“There’s a certain wage that the employer has to meet,” Taitague said. “Every year [the student] has to get an increase in pay, and at the end of the program, they’re supposed to be getting the same amount as a certified journeyman.”
According to Taitague, between 2014 and 2020, the trades academy has seen 94 active students, and 28 completed courses.
“It’s hard to gauge the number per year because it was just an ‘active,’ ‘cancelled,’ and ‘completed’ list that was just being added [to] and removed [from],” she said. “The time frame of those who have completed are based on the trade they are taking classes for, so it varies. Some take two years; some take four years; and some take six years to complete the program so it really all depends.”
The GCA Trades Academy and GCC bootcamp program offer similar courses, but Mendiola said, “We’re all friends. I always check with them before we do something. We don’t want to overlap too much.”
The programs also have a common goal: training students to fill Guam’s needs for skilled labor and getting more residents into jobs.
“If you have local people working, then they’re keeping the money on island,” Mendiola said. “There’s a bigger picture to this. And this is the part we play in the scope of things.” mbj