Monday, November 16, 2009

H2 workers vs locals

H2 workers vs locals

Monday, 16 November 2009 04:39
by Jennifer Naylor Gesick | Variety News Staff

Full local workforce development nixed by GCA

WHILE the local labor sector pushes for the development of a resident workforce to meet the demand of the impending multibillion dollar military buildup, the president of the Guam Contractors Association expressed reluctance to prioritize such initiative.

As the University of Guam-sponsored Guam Community and Economic Development Forum wrapped on Friday, a startling comment by GCA president James Martinez sent a small murmur through the crowd attending the forum whose theme was a discussion of ways to create a sustainable future for Guam and island residents.

During the workforce development and employment needs panel, a debate broke out over prioritizing the use of H2 workers over the full-development and training of local workers.

While director of Guam Department of Labor Maria Connelley stressed the need to train and hire local workers for positions related to the buildup especially construction, Martinez said overtraining local people for the temporary construction boom would result in mass lay-offs when the projects are completed. “That is exactly what H-2 workers are for,” said Martinez.

First priority

But Connelley stressed that recruiting H-2s is the last resort. The labor department head reaffirmed the proper order in prioritizing filling thousands of jobs expected to be created by the Guam military realignment. “We will first hire locally, then people from the Federated States of Micronesia, then the U.S., and then H2s,” she reiterated.

Carl Peterson, chairman of the Chamber Education/Workforce Development Committee for the Guam Chamber of Commerce, urged full training and development of Guam workers.

He said his organization wants to see everyone on Guam raise their standard of living with this buildup. “We want everyone to take that initiative,” said Peterson. “We should be focusing on education so people can improve their goals.”

Project completed

Instead of laying off workers when the military build work is completed, Peterson said employers should instead focus on the permanent work that will be created by the largest such military realignment in the history of the U.S.

Retaining employees should be important, Peterson pointed out, because the military has stated they expect to create more than 1,600 permanent jobs on base, adding, “With the feds coming off base to pull your workers on to base, we need to upgrade and educate our current workforce and young people as young as middle school,” he said.

Hard to plan

Martinez said Guam needs a comprehensive study to establish a plan to know the employment needs of Guam.

However, Connelley said that would be hard to do, considering the clear lack of information provided by the Department of Defense, as recently cited in a Government Accountability Office report.

Guam does not have valid data upon which to draw effective conclusions, Connelley said, further noting for forum participants the lack of viable data also makes it difficult to pursue desperately needed grants.

Rising costs

Peterson said that island wages should increase due to a lack of workers in a range of industries as employees move from one sector to another. He said the inflationary impact would be felt down the line, but tempered his projection by adding that everything would level out eventually.

Mary Torre, president of Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association, said most of the concerns for her group’s members had to do with people moving into different jobs. But, she said, they are used to change because tourism is an industry that is in constant flux.

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