Apprenticeship is a key driver for developing the workforce, and Guam’s apprenticeship model is one of the most successful across America.
In the opening lines of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s 2020 State of the Island Address, she stated that Guam’s unemployment rates are down and we currently have more than 1,000 individuals helped by apprenticeship programs. That’s ⅓ of all apprentices in the last five years.
“It really is amazing, the percentage of Guam’s population that’s in registered apprenticeship,” said Aaron Wall, regional executive assistant of apprenticeship for the U.S. Department of Labor. “The numbers in the territory are remarkable, and I agree that Guam leads the nation per capita.”
This administration along with the Guam Department of Labor and its partners strongly advocates reducing the shortage of highly skilled workers through apprenticeship as a top priority. To achieve this goal, the Department shifted toward pre-apprenticeship and initiated programs to help the underemployed. These pre-apprenticeships and boot camps teach participants soft skills such as work ethic, and mold them into being better prepared for full-time work and apprenticeship.
“At the start of 2019, our apprenticeship program and number of participants were already great, but we weren’t reaching out to our harder-to-serve population,” said Labor Director David Dell’Isola. “Some individuals didn’t qualify to enter an apprenticeship program. So we made a shift toward pre-apprenticeship, which is the first step to an apprenticeship program for the underemployed or unemployed who lack skills. This can then lead to gainful employment. We give them a hand up and also give them a taste of what apprenticeship is, and if it’s the right fit for them.”
The employers benefit as well. They get a better-prepared apprentice and they can feel more comfortable investing into these employees who have shown the initiative to finish these pre-qualifying programs and earn certifications.
The Department of Labor partnered with the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association for a pre-apprenticeship program that helped incumbent workers, and also brought in employees for some of the harder-to-fill, entry-level occupations by funding part of the program with federal, grant-funded apprenticeship dollars.
“I can’t stress enough how important pre-apprenticeship is for our population because a majority don’t go on to secondary education,” said Mary Rhodes, Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association president. “It’s an important preliminary step to get people into apprenticeship, and it serves as a vital role to help people continue their education.”
Of the 252 individuals who graduated from GHRA’s inaugural program, those who were unemployed became gainfully employed. For those already employed, they were promoted at their places of employment while others joined apprenticeship programs. According to Rhodes, a few even got jobs off island because of the certifications they received by completing the program.
“You don’t just jump straight into the military and get to work. It’s too much of a culture shock. Instead, enlistees go to boot camp to learn the skills and what it means to be in the armed forces. That’s just how our boot camp programs work for our people,” Dell’Isola said.
With these boot camps, the Department and their partners invest in the participants and put them into rigorous, short-term programs and if they graduate, they gain a new perspective. They get a better chance at success.
Some of the funding for Guam’s apprenticeship programs comes from the Man Power Development Fund. With each H-2B worker contracted for the military realignment, employers pay a $2,000 fee. Seventy percent of that goes to Guam Community College and its apprenticeship programs.
The GCA Trades Academy is another valuable partner that works with the Department of Labor with its various construction-related training programs to empower Guam’s skilled labor force.
“This administration is very aggressive about building the workforce through apprenticeship, and we have the ability to tailor the programs at GCC to grow our workforce needs in areas that are lacking,” said GCC President Mary Okada.
“We have more than 1,000 in apprenticeship programs, but if you count all of the Guam Community College programs we have in the high schools, then we have about 2,900 more. These programs give students dual credit and operate just like pre-apprenticeship programs.”
The number of licensed and trained truck drivers required for the ongoing military realignment will be in the hundreds, and Guam has a severe shortage. GCC teamed up with the Department to provide truck driving boot camps that not only earn graduates their C-class licenses but also nationally recognized certificates in OSHA-10, CPR/Basic First Aid, national career readiness and work ethics.
“Altogether, look at the range of diversity in your programs,” said Doug Howell, multi-state navigator for apprenticeship of the U.S. Department of Labor. “If you look at the bigger ones in the bigger states, it’s all construction. What Guam has done is expand beyond that. You have the programs with the police department, the shipyard, allied health and the tourism industry. You guys have a variety that we don’t see in other states.”
Guam has long struggled with shortages of health care providers. Labor partnered with both GCC and the University of Guam to create allied health programs to help train and graduate certified nursing assistants to meet the needs of Guam’s workforce.
“Not only did we work with them to finish their classwork and training, we also continued to help them with free classes to help them pass their nursing exams to get them all successfully certified,” Dell’Isola said.
The Guam Registered Apprenticeship Program is a tax incentivized program to entice employers to join registered apprenticeship. Local businesses who join receive a 50% tax break of the eligible training costs paid or incurred by the business to train their apprentices. These include direct wages of apprentices, direct fringe benefits such as medical and dental insurance, journeyman’s wages for the on-the-job training, instructor costs, both academic and trade theory, training costs such as books and tuition, and even personal protective equipment required for the job and for the training.
In 2019, The Guam Registered Apprenticeship Program Tax Credit totaled $4.4 million dollars. Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee aided the extension of this tax credit for five years by introducing Bill 128-35, which became Public Law 35-39 in October 2019. The law also expanded the list of eligible careers and companies able to participate.
In-demand industries for the new decade that will be creating new jobs include aquaculture and agriculture. The administration and the Department of Labor are working to add these two sciences into the Guam Registered Apprenticeship Program, creating sustainable and diverse pathways for new employment.
“With our partners and our Guam Registered Apprenticeship sponsors, millions have been directly injected into building and strengthening our workforce,” Dell’Isola said. “It’s about working together. These are solid partnership programs and everyone is in sync and working together. That’s how this administration is moving our island forward together.”
(Information from a news release)