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Brief chat with Denise Mendiola: Paving pathways to work




By Frank Whitman

 

To meet the businesses’ need for skilled workers in Guam and Micronesia, and the students’ need for skills that will likely lead to employment, Guam Community College has instituted “boot camps” to accelerate training in skills identified as needed by employers.


Initiated largely in response to the needs of the military buildup in the region, the boot camps average six to eight weeks in length depending on the subject matter, the availability of instructors and the employer’s schedule.


“(The boot camp program) was originally designed to get folks into the ship repair industry and construction,” said Denise M. Mendiola, assistant director for Continuing Education and Workforce Development at GCC.


Denise Mendiola/Photo by Frank Whitman

Subject matter for the courses depends on the employers' needs, Mendiola said. “For example, ship repair is ramping up so we have employers like Cabras Marine, Guam Shipyard and now Pearl Harbor and Seafix, that are all needing employees who are skilled in a specific area,” she said. “Employers want workers that have an understanding of welding, carpentry, plumbing, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), Those are the main ones.”


Indicative of the state of the job market in those areas, all of the students who completed a recent ship repair boot camp were hired by Guam Shipyard, Mendiola said. She noted that Cabras Marine also often hires all those who complete ship repair boot camps and Hawaii-based Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard has recruited workers in Guam.    


More recently, as buildings on the bases are nearing completion, employers have indicated a need for furniture installers.


“This is our first furniture installer boot camp,” she said. “So we had to take some time to learn about it from the employer.” Following discussions with the employer, “We ended up with a carpentry course.”  


The boot camp program began in 2018. Since then, 697 people have come through 46 boot camps. Of those, 565 completed the training, for a success rate of about 81 percent. During the pandemic, the boot camps met the needs of many workers who were transitioning out of careers in tourism due to the drastic drop in the number of tourist arrivals.

All boot camps include standard courses from GCC, Mendiola said. “The first one is work ethic because that’s always the biggest issue.” The course is eight to 16 hours long and often offered online.


Prospective employees also take WorkKeys, an assessment tool based on industry standards. It is a national certification that is good anywhere in the U.S.


The boot camps are offered at no charge to the students, Mendiola said. Students receive college credit, training with credentials, personal protective equipment, supplies, and sometimes tools and services. “All they have to do is commit to the program.”


It is also free for employers who commit to hiring a given number of employees.


The program has several funding sources including a Department of the Interior Technical Assistance Program grant that funds construction, ship repair and truck boot camps. It also receives funds from Guam’s Manpower Development Fund, which is funded by Guam employers when they hire foreign workers under the H-2B visa program.


Mendiola considers the U.S. Department of Labor one of the program’s main partners particularly in providing support to students. “When we have a boot camp that’s ready to go, DOL will receive the applicants; they’ll go through their process, capture their information, (and) wrap services around them,” she said.


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“Then, if during the training, that person is not keeping up, DOL catches them and works to determine the cause. Maybe it wasn’t a right fit; maybe another training program would work better. We’re still working those out and still trying to follow the completers through that process.”


One challenge in the program is ensuring applicants pass the security screening required to work on military bases. “Background checks are mandatory for them, which reduces the number of potential employees,” Mendiola said. “That makes it challenging when we’re trying to recruit people to participate.”

The program also works successfully with clients of the Tohge Guam peer-support organization and with individuals who have been incarcerated, though neither group is eligible to work on base.   


The GCC continuing education programs, of which the boot camps are just one part, are implementing programs throughout the region.


“Our mission states that we provide career technical education for workforce development in Micronesia,” Mendiola said. In addition to Guam students, GCC has relationships with the College of Micronesia, the College of the Marshall Islands and the Northern Marianas College.


GCC is working to eventually be able to provide a career path to students at all the regional schools whether or not they plan to leave their home island. GCC is providing WorkKeys assessments to students at CMI and COM, and in high schools, Mendiola said.


It is also looking to provide services to students before they are at the college level. “The idea is to be able to create a career pathway starting with middle school all the way up to employment when they become adults,” Mendiola said.


That includes ensuring resources are available for middle school students to decide what interests them and what type of career their interests might include.  


  “Then in high school, their interest develops a little more,” she said. “Then they can go to GCC or UOG or wherever. Through our apprenticeship program, they get employed and then they continue to go to school for free and are in the field they’re interested in.”




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