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Going Into Labor, Part Three: The Future Belongs to Youth — But Do They Want It?

Sept. 26, 2007 — As a large population of government workers prepares for retirement within the next five to 10 years, more opportunities will become available for well-trained and well-educated students and young professionals. But are these individuals — the youth of the territory — really prepared to take over for the aging baby boomers?
About 40 percent of the territory's workforce is uneducated — either college or high school dropouts without a diploma or degree, according to Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan. Those who are educated, however, are currently not seeking the job opportunities available in government, deterred either by low pay scales or the inability to find employment within their specific field of study, he said.
"That means within the next 10 years we're going to have a severe labor shortage," Bryan said.
Professionals from the University of the Virgin Islands echo Bryan's concerns: Students are either not getting trained at an early age for the jobs that will become vacant within the next few years, or they're not taking advantage of existing training programs throughout the territory. Government officials say the economy is poised for a boom in the construction and manufacturing industries, but students are not being motivated to pursue a career in these fields, leaving the employment opportunities wide open for off-island professionals, says Dale Morton, an extension agent with UVI's agriculture and natural-resources program.
Employment gaps extend to the private sector as well, Morton said. These days, he said, students are more interested in going "where the money is" instead of staying at home and studying for careers that might not prove quite as lucrative. On the other side, a lack of training and vocational programs within the territory has exacerbated the problem, he said: Once students get trained in a specialized area, they chose to go off island and work.
"The jobs in certain areas just aren't available down here," Morton said. "However, there are openings that will be in place within the next three to 10 years, and we need to encourage students to see those professions as reasonable paths to pursue."
Who thinks, for example, of being a pathologist or landscape architect when they grow up? These are some of the jobs that will be left vacant, however, when a corresponding set of private-sector individuals retire, Morton says.
"We need to direct young people away from being doctors, lawyers, business majors," he added. "Because they are only thinking in terms of professions that are going to be gaining them a lot of money. They have to start thinking in terms of service."
Reducing the Brain Drain
Education is key, the experts say.
"One of the first things we have to do is cut down on that 40 percent of the workforce that's uneducated," Bryan said. Though this may seem a lofty goal, there are currently programs in place to help students or young professionals get their high school diplomas, and possibly train for the jobs they want.
Through a partnership with WTJX/Channel 12, along with the Education and Human Services departments, Labor is spearheading a program that allows its participants to prepare for the GED exam at home. While the actual lessons can be viewed on television, Labor will provide students with the necessary workbooks and supplies needed to follow along. A toll-free hotline and online assistance are also available if necessary, Bryan said.
A big draw for students each year is the department's Summer Youth Employment program, which is designed to provide training and employment opportunities for individuals between the ages of 14 and 25. Subsidized by money from the General Fund, the program is affiliated with a wide-range of large and small private-sector businesses, including Hovensa, Carambola Golf Club, St. Thomas Nursing Home, Trans-Caribbean Dairy and Seaborne Airlines.
Other programs include:
— On the Job Training: gives participants between the ages of 16 and 25 an opportunity to work within a variety of local businesses; work requirement is up to 840 hours;
— Labor Investing for Tomorrow: provides college-level students between the ages of 18 and 25 with job training in business and technical fields; work requirement is 280 hours during the summer; and
— Computer-literacy training: offers courses in general computer knowledge, Microsoft Office software and basic electronic navigation for individuals between the ages of 14 and 25.
The territory's Human Resources Investment Council, an advisory board to the governor, is also in the process of developing a two-year strategic plan, Bryan said. It hinges on creating opportunities for government employees to move up within the ranks of the department they work in, among other things.
"In trying to create opportunities that are more accessible to young people, we are also looking at setting up a youth resource center in Sunny Isle," he said. "Our target date for this project — which will provide computer and other training, job info, counseling and other resources — is October. We also hope to set up a one-stop center for youth in each district."
Long-Term Solutions
Since low pay is a frequent problem within the government's workforce, initiatives are also underway within the Division of Personnel to step up wages, says Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon.
"Most graduates are, more often than not, apprehensive about coming back home to the Virgin Islands," Hermon said. "Many are deterred by the inability to find affordable housing, or they're faced with inadequate compensation for what they feel their skill sets are."
There are a few givens when it comes to a getting a government job, Hermon explained: The applicant needs to have at least a high school diploma, and should be ready to take a pay cut, at least for a little while. Still, the job market is just as tough on the mainland, he said, recounting his own experiences after graduating from college in Atlanta.
"After four to five months of trying to seek employment in the States, I realized that it's just as difficult as getting employment in the Virgin Islands," he said. "Upon my return home, I went through the same headache trying to get through the Division of Personnel, but I went on to learn the ropes of the system. Starting out, with a B.A. degree, my salary was $18,848. That same title is now $28,000. So, in time, you do have the ability to move up the chain."
In the meantime, Personnel is embarking on a comprehensive compensation and classification study, Hermon said. In short, that means the division will establish benchmark salaries for certain positions and, he hopes, factor in perks such as cost-of-living allowances.
"At the same time, however, I would have to say that students really have to begin to take more control over their careers," he added. "You really can't depend on someone to find you a job or give you a break — you have to work hard and go after what you want."
But what if the problem is a lack of motivation?
Morton says another long-term solution includes targeting students in local junior high and high schools, and helping them to get excited about the jobs available in their community.
"We have to continue appealing to them and training them in hopes that some will stay here or come back," he said. "That means continuous talk, going into the schools on a regular basis, setting up more career fairs. It means making more internships available — instead of sending our students to work at Kmart or Pueblo, let some of them do work study, earn college credit and begin to learn a trade."
On the college level, partnerships with other nearby universities could help to create an outlet for students, particularly when it comes to resources and money, Morton said. Since UVI doesn't currently offer a degree in
agriculture, for example, students interested in pursuing a career in the field could hop over to Puerto Rico and take advantage of some of their local programs, he explained.
"We may not be able to accommodate these students, but we can tell them where to go," Morton said. "They just need to come to us, show an interest. That's what we're here for — to help."
For information about the Labor Department's training programs, or to get a list of training providers, on St. Croix call 773-1994, ext. 222, or on St. Thomas call 776-3700, ext. 2099.
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Sept. 26, 2007 -- As a large population of government workers prepares for retirement within the next five to 10 years, more opportunities will become available for well-trained and well-educated students and young professionals. But are these individuals -- the youth of the territory -- really prepared to take over for the aging baby boomers?
About 40 percent of the territory's workforce is uneducated -- either college or high school dropouts without a diploma or degree, according to Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan. Those who are educated, however, are currently not seeking the job opportunities available in government, deterred either by low pay scales or the inability to find employment within their specific field of study, he said.
"That means within the next 10 years we're going to have a severe labor shortage," Bryan said.
Professionals from the University of the Virgin Islands echo Bryan's concerns: Students are either not getting trained at an early age for the jobs that will become vacant within the next few years, or they're not taking advantage of existing training programs throughout the territory. Government officials say the economy is poised for a boom in the construction and manufacturing industries, but students are not being motivated to pursue a career in these fields, leaving the employment opportunities wide open for off-island professionals, says Dale Morton, an extension agent with UVI's agriculture and natural-resources program.
Employment gaps extend to the private sector as well, Morton said. These days, he said, students are more interested in going "where the money is" instead of staying at home and studying for careers that might not prove quite as lucrative. On the other side, a lack of training and vocational programs within the territory has exacerbated the problem, he said: Once students get trained in a specialized area, they chose to go off island and work.
"The jobs in certain areas just aren't available down here," Morton said. "However, there are openings that will be in place within the next three to 10 years, and we need to encourage students to see those professions as reasonable paths to pursue."
Who thinks, for example, of being a pathologist or landscape architect when they grow up? These are some of the jobs that will be left vacant, however, when a corresponding set of private-sector individuals retire, Morton says.
"We need to direct young people away from being doctors, lawyers, business majors," he added. "Because they are only thinking in terms of professions that are going to be gaining them a lot of money. They have to start thinking in terms of service."
Reducing the Brain Drain
Education is key, the experts say.
"One of the first things we have to do is cut down on that 40 percent of the workforce that's uneducated," Bryan said. Though this may seem a lofty goal, there are currently programs in place to help students or young professionals get their high school diplomas, and possibly train for the jobs they want.
Through a partnership with WTJX/Channel 12, along with the Education and Human Services departments, Labor is spearheading a program that allows its participants to prepare for the GED exam at home. While the actual lessons can be viewed on television, Labor will provide students with the necessary workbooks and supplies needed to follow along. A toll-free hotline and online assistance are also available if necessary, Bryan said.
A big draw for students each year is the department's Summer Youth Employment program, which is designed to provide training and employment opportunities for individuals between the ages of 14 and 25. Subsidized by money from the General Fund, the program is affiliated with a wide-range of large and small private-sector businesses, including Hovensa, Carambola Golf Club, St. Thomas Nursing Home, Trans-Caribbean Dairy and Seaborne Airlines.
Other programs include:
-- On the Job Training: gives participants between the ages of 16 and 25 an opportunity to work within a variety of local businesses; work requirement is up to 840 hours;
-- Labor Investing for Tomorrow: provides college-level students between the ages of 18 and 25 with job training in business and technical fields; work requirement is 280 hours during the summer; and
-- Computer-literacy training: offers courses in general computer knowledge, Microsoft Office software and basic electronic navigation for individuals between the ages of 14 and 25.
The territory's Human Resources Investment Council, an advisory board to the governor, is also in the process of developing a two-year strategic plan, Bryan said. It hinges on creating opportunities for government employees to move up within the ranks of the department they work in, among other things.
"In trying to create opportunities that are more accessible to young people, we are also looking at setting up a youth resource center in Sunny Isle," he said. "Our target date for this project -- which will provide computer and other training, job info, counseling and other resources -- is October. We also hope to set up a one-stop center for youth in each district."
Long-Term Solutions
Since low pay is a frequent problem within the government's workforce, initiatives are also underway within the Division of Personnel to step up wages, says Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon.
"Most graduates are, more often than not, apprehensive about coming back home to the Virgin Islands," Hermon said. "Many are deterred by the inability to find affordable housing, or they're faced with inadequate compensation for what they feel their skill sets are."
There are a few givens when it comes to a getting a government job, Hermon explained: The applicant needs to have at least a high school diploma, and should be ready to take a pay cut, at least for a little while. Still, the job market is just as tough on the mainland, he said, recounting his own experiences after graduating from college in Atlanta.
"After four to five months of trying to seek employment in the States, I realized that it's just as difficult as getting employment in the Virgin Islands," he said. "Upon my return home, I went through the same headache trying to get through the Division of Personnel, but I went on to learn the ropes of the system. Starting out, with a B.A. degree, my salary was $18,848. That same title is now $28,000. So, in time, you do have the ability to move up the chain."
In the meantime, Personnel is embarking on a comprehensive compensation and classification study, Hermon said. In short, that means the division will establish benchmark salaries for certain positions and, he hopes, factor in perks such as cost-of-living allowances.
"At the same time, however, I would have to say that students really have to begin to take more control over their careers," he added. "You really can't depend on someone to find you a job or give you a break -- you have to work hard and go after what you want."
But what if the problem is a lack of motivation?
Morton says another long-term solution includes targeting students in local junior high and high schools, and helping them to get excited about the jobs available in their community.
"We have to continue appealing to them and training them in hopes that some will stay here or come back," he said. "That means continuous talk, going into the schools on a regular basis, setting up more career fairs. It means making more internships available -- instead of sending our students to work at Kmart or Pueblo, let some of them do work study, earn college credit and begin to learn a trade."
On the college level, partnerships with other nearby universities could help to create an outlet for students, particularly when it comes to resources and money, Morton said. Since UVI doesn't currently offer a degree in agriculture, for example, students interested in pursuing a career in the field could hop over to Puerto Rico and take advantage of some of their local programs, he explained.
"We may not be able to accommodate these students, but we can tell them where to go," Morton said. "They just need to come to us, show an interest. That's what we're here for -- to help."
For information about the Labor Department's training programs, or to get a list of training providers, on St. Croix call 773-1994, ext. 222, or on St. Thomas call 776-3700, ext. 2099.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.