• By Alex J. Rhowuniong

Building Chuuk labor pool: Workforce development in planning stages


HireChuuk workforce in Chuuk will soon become part of Guam Department of Labor’s HireGuam network. The plan is currently being developed by a Guam-based marketing research and development company.

Jay Merrill, president of Marketing Research & Development Inc., said such a move is just one piece of the puzzle to satisfy the need for a developed and enhanced regional workforce in the greater Micronesia area.

“Unemployment rate in Chuuk is high. Again, subsistence base economy has always been the ramification of countering the effects of unemployment,” according to Chuuk State Economic Development Commission’s Chuuk State Strategic Development Plan 2018 to 2023. The document, however, did not provide statistics.

“According to a paper presented at the 2012 Chuuk State Leadership Conference by the Chuuk State Workforce Development Taskforce, Chuuk has problems with high number of dropouts and the low number of high school graduates pursuing post-secondary education and/or training.”

The paper noted that such problem can lead to social issues of high number of youth at risk and unskilled labor force. “It was then concluded that to counter the issues, training and bridging programs must be created.”

The center for the HireChuuk program is not up yet, but once up, there will be a place for it in Chuuk with an address and a website, Merrill said. "It will be linked to the hire program here (HireGuam, at the Guam Department of Labor website)," he added. "It will have HireChuuk on it, and all will be tied together and made visible as part of this overall network, with the objective in the long run, of completing the vision of having a regional workforce, a large labor exchange that has workers from all over the islands."

Merrill said the workers will be able to "move between employers when they have jobs and maximize the talents out there." An employer in Chuuk will be able to look at potential hires in Chuuk, Guam and other US. jurisdictions to look into their background. Likewise, job seekers anywhere can get online and identify what jobs are available in Chuuk, Merrill added.

The training that will be provided will be on par with U.S. national standards and the trainees will finish the program with a U.S. national certificate. "At the end of the day, no matter where you go, you'll be able to have verifiable skill levels,” he said.

The program will tap trainers from College of Micronesia, GCA Trades Academy, and other private trainers who can bring national certifications. Merrill said the board of directors will consist of employers, who will monitor the standards of curriculum and assess the requirements suitable for the islands.

Jessy Sidney, former director of FSM's Trade Training and Testing Program, expressed interest in the development of such program. "If this thing in Chuuk materializes,” he said, "please let me know."

FSM’s T3 was established by the United Nation's International Labor Organization for South Pacific and Micronesia to train and certify tradesmen.

Sidney, who left FSM's T3 in 2009 to become assistant secretary for Career and Technical Education before retiring, had a good extensive working relationship with Guam Community College, Guam Trades Academy, Micronesian Empowerment and Guam DOL. "Overall, Chuuk can benefit a lot from this if it is done right, and not merely as something to show off."

Merrill said the cost associated with the training is still being assessed. "Some think that what's going to occur," he said, "should be kind of a loan arrangement, where if you enrolled in the program then you have to pay back a portion of it."

The other option is to offer it free, "like the rest of the education system in the islands” where trainees are required to stay on the job for a certain period of time. If they don't, then there might be penalties.

Merrill said he was working on Pohnpei's program when he was initially contacted by Chuuk Gov. Johnson Elimo, who expressed a desire to see a training center set up in Chuuk. “We've assembled a group of 16 major employers (in Chuuk)," he said, "and developed a strategic plan to set up a program with a center that is going to train people for actual jobs that are there now."

He found out that "there are a bunch" of employers in Chuuk, including Vital PetroCorp, FSM Telecommunications Corp., Chuuk Utility Corp., Bank of Guam and Bank of FSM.

As a member of the Center for Micronesian Empowerment, Merrill has been involved with a similar workforce development training program for Palau, Marshall Islands and Kosrae. The recruits were trained in Guam. Graduates got hired instantly, Merrill said.

While noting the CME program’s success, funding later became a problem when the Workforce Innovation Act program nearly lost its grant because of mismanagement. Such fund was dwindling, plus the populations of the islands were growing.

The plan for Chuuk is more viable, Merrill said. Funds that will be used for infrastructure will come from the Compact re-negotiation. "In Chuuk alone," he said, "there is a $120 million that's scheduled for expenditures for the next three years. About a third of that is going to be wages alone."

There should be way to persuade contractors to help support the development of this center, he said. "That's what we're all about,"Merrill finally said. "That's what we're trying to do."

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