top of page
  • Writer's pictureAdmin

Guam has thousands of jobs and a shortage of applicants

‘Now Hiring’ signs are everywhere, but where are the job seekers?


By Naina Rao and Mar-Vic Cagurangan


No one can say there’s a dearth of jobs on Guam, what with “Now Hiring” signs staring us in the face. They’re at the fast-food drive-thrus, in the back of delivery vans, at the entrance of restaurants, on the counter of grocery stores, on the pages of social media and the Guam Department of Labor’s website. Are resumés coming in?

September 2023 marked a significant upswing in employment opportunities across Guam. Surging ahead with approximately 2,000 more job openings compared to the previous year, sectors such as construction, retail trade and hospitality spearheaded this surge.

Typically an employers’ market where jobseekers compete for jobs, Guam has become an employees’ market. The situation has reversed. Employers now compete for a limited number of job applicants, who are likely to respond to the highest bidder.

Last year, Guam lost 460 residents who relocated to Denver to join United Airlines’ ramp agents pool. United offered an hourly rate of $20 to entry-level employees, with the top of the pay scale maxing out at around $90,000 annually. The signing bonus alone was $25,000. Obviously, Guam’s $9.25 hourly minimum wage was no match to this competition.

Of the 10 occupations with the most annual openings in Guam, food and service-related jobs accounted for 22.6 percent of job openings at present. But the report showed that it also had the lowest median wage at $21,020.

Employers are grappling with vacancies as they struggle to find residents to fill these roles. “Anecdotally, we are receiving some (reports) from the hotel industry and other employers who are saying that there seems to be a surplus of jobs. However, they are noticing that there aren't enough people applying for these jobs,” said Janela Carrera, communications director for the Guam Department of Labor.

The island's economy, steadily recovering from the impacts of the pandemic, showcased remarkable resilience with employment figures witnessing an encouraging uptick since December 2020.

David Dell'Isola

Fueling this resurgence were thriving industries like food preparation and hospitality services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted the largest growth in the next 10 years will occur within the food preparation and service-related occupations, which, according to the bureau, had a base employment of 6,530 jobs in 2020. It is projected to rise to 8,960 in 2030, with 1,590 average annual openings.

The optimism for this growth was palpable at the January 2024 economic outlook panel convened by the Chamber of Commerce. Gary Hiles, chief economist at GovGuam’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, emphasized the island's low unemployment rate, echoing the national trend at around 4 percent.

When Covid came along, everybody was knocked out of their jobs. The federal government came to the rescue with the Pandemic Unemployment grants to provide a safety net for the displaced employees. “We got over a billion dollars’ worth of money. That was the biggest program and biggest check I've ever signed in my life,” Labor Director David Dell’Isola said.

After two and half years, the pandemic is finally gone but it has created a new environment. The nostalgia of work-from-home spawned a new attitude among employees. People got used to staying home, taking care of their children and building gardens. “You can't expect all these people to shift all of a sudden. A lot of them say, ‘I kind of like taking care of the kids. I kind of like this change. I don't want to go back to my old job. I can get by.’ And some of them have gone and got on SNAPs and gotten assistance,” Dell’Isola said.


As of June 2023, there were 50,690 people who remained outside of the labor force. That number accounts for nearly a third of Guam’s population of 160,000.

Incidentally, there were 39,055 Guam residents enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as of 2021. Under SNAP, which covers the cost of food, groceries and other necessities, a household of one receives $430 a month, and a household six receives $2,044 a month.

While SNAP requires beneficiary recipients to participate in employment and training programs, government data projected 5,000 people under various categories to be exempted from this rule. They include under 16 years old or 60 years old and older, teenagers who are either attending schools, heads of households, physically and mentally challenged people, people receiving unemployment compensation, people under drug treatment and pregnant women.

Janela Carrera

Carrera said there is currently no empirical data connecting public welfare with a lack of motivation to work. “It’s probably something that would still need some sort of qualitative analysis to understand the impact of it,” she said.

Several Guamanians have since relocated after Covid. “We can estimate around 10,000 plus people who might have left island. You can base it on (the drop in) the student population,” Dell’Isola said.

In normal times, the workforce pipeline consists of entry-level employees, followed by those who may be moving up for promotions. At the near the end of the pipeline are people starting to plan their retirement.

Covid disrupted the pipeline, Dell’Isola said. "You lost all the new workers coming in and starting out with work.”

The September 2023 Unemployment Situation Report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Guam Department of Labor shows more people working as people transition out of the labor force or unemployed categories and enter or reenter the labor force and find employment. 

While a boon for employees relishing increased consumer spending power, “it’s also a challenge for employers because employees are more difficult to retain,” Hiles cautioned.

A recent report unveiled by the Guam Workforce Development Board underscores this caution, as it found a growing mismatch between available job openings and local skill sets. 

 Moreover, prospective employees now place a premium on workplace culture, well-being, and achieving a harmonious work-life balance after the pandemic, as revealed by the GWDB's Economic and Workforce Analysis for 2024-27.

“Globally, we are seeing a shift in workplace attitudes. The pandemic created this shift in wanting better workplace culture, work-life balance, flexibility in their schedules,” Carrera said.

Such a frame of mind may have been the motivation for hundreds of Guamanians to take United’s offer. “For anything new and exciting, the people will come out and get out of their comfort zone. They're being picky because they've gotten uncomfortable. They will come back when they feel that it's worth them to come back," Dell’Isola said.

Then there is a weakness that always confronts Guam's labor market. Based on anecdotal evidence, the GWDB states that employers currently indicate a surplus of job openings in specific sectors, but local residents lack the requisite skills and qualifications to match them to these positions.

Guam has launched several apprenticeship programs that don’t seem to meet their goals. In the last five years, the apprenticeship program, specifically, the Guam registered apprenticeship program, actually grew exponentially. It doubled in terms of participants,’” Carrera said.

Program participation went from an annual average of around 220 to 250 in prior years to 500 last year. “Outside of GRAP, we also have other apprenticeship programs in which we partner with the Guam Community College. In the last five years, we've increased our number of these boot camps,” Carrera said.

Despite increased participation, these programs have not yielded enough workers to fill the workforce “because the demand is very high, especially with the construction because of the military buildup,” Carrera said. 

“What we want to do is expand our apprenticeship program, not just to the construction industry. We're doing apprenticeship programs with Guam Police Department and, Customs. And then now we're starting to explore the idea of apprenticeship programs in education, which is like your professional apprenticeship programs, which is not typical of the apprenticeship programs,” Carrera added.  

To meet the military contractors’ demand for highly skilled workers, Guam continues to rely on the H-2B program. “We rapidly ran out of a stable workforce and so, one of the biggest solutions we have is a waiver to the H-2B visa program that enables us to bring in workers, foreign workers, to do projects, military-related projects, here on the island,” said Rear Adm. Gregory Huffman, commander of the Joint Task Force Micronesia.

The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act has extended through 2029 the waiver for “temporary need” requirements under the H-2B program. “I think is a huge victory. That was always the linchpin of our success in getting the construction done,” Huffman said.


The waiver allows companies to retain the workers longer instead of doing a yearly visa renewal. “Without that extension, it would be extremely difficult to plan effectively ahead for our contractors and project managers to get the work done,” Huffman said. “Now that that has been extended through 2029, we have stability in that workforce and the ability to plan more effectively.”

Speaking at the same COC panel back in January, Guam Economic Development Authority CEO and administrator Melanie Mendiola pointed out why the construction sector witnessed a remarkable 76 percent surge in its workforce population from 2019 to 2023, but retail experienced declines. “Construction pays $731 a week on average, whereas hotels pay $354 a week on average,” she said.

The labor department's report states that without adequate wage growth to keep pace with the rising tide of inflation, “individuals and families struggle to cover basic needs and may resort to relying on subsidies or other forms of assistance to make ends meet.”

Driving to work to make money costs money. Given the rising gas prices, some find it cheaper to stay home and wait for government aid instead of laboring for minimum wage.


In response to these challenges, the Guam Department of Labor underscored the imperative for employers to invest in employee development and foster conducive workplace environments. Recognizing the seismic shifts accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the surge in remote work arrangements, policymakers are urged to recalibrate their strategies to bolster workforce participation and support sustainable economic growth.

Despite persistent hurdles like transportation issues and limited training resources, Guam has made commendable strides in education and skills development.

Various programs catering to adults, dislocated workers, and youth aim to equip individuals with the necessary tools for career advancement. However, to fully harness the island's potential, stakeholders must collaborate to bridge existing gaps and optimize existing strengths, such as vocational training initiatives.

Overall, Mendiola shared that there are opportunities to improve hiring and retention rates, and the path forward demands a concerted effort. “What I think needs to happen is there needs to be a true understanding of where we want to see our workforce in 10 or 15 years,” she said, “and try to figure out what kind of local programming can help us meet that to help us close that gap.”



bottom of page