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Variations | God bless America

A RECENT report from the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research discussed workforce concerns in the U.S., specifically the “skills gap” — the “mismatch between the job skills employers are looking for and the skills that applicants in the labor market possess.”

The U.S. Department of Labor says there are “over 6.7 million unfilled job openings in the economy today.” These job openings include those in healthcare, transportation, retail and production. To their credit, federal policymakers are taking action to address the skills gap, including expanding training opportunities and increasing funding for these initiatives.

According to the report, the U.S. has had a long history of providing workforce training. The first federal workforce training programs were created in 1933. These were updated by federal laws enacted in 1962, 1973 and 1982.

“The current federal workforce development system has roots in the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), passed in 1998, which consolidated local workforce development centers throughout the country into a nationalized network…. In 2014, Congress reauthorized WIA as the [Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act] to improve ‘the structure of and delivery of services through the United States workforce development system to better address the employment and skill needs of workers, jobseekers, and employers…. [A]bout $4.8 billion was allocated for WIOA programs and services.” (My italics.)

But that’s not all. In the U.S., “the majority of spending that goes toward workforce training comes from private employers. Seventy percent of U.S. firms report offering some type of formal employee training, collectively costing them $177 billion per year…. In addition to formal training, employers reportedly spend another $413 billion in informal training programs.” (My italics.)

And yet in the U.S. where employers pay much higher wages and are providing training, certain jobs remain unfilled.

“Jobs Go Unfilled as the Economy Expands,” says the Wall Street Journal.

“There now are more job openings in the U.S. than unemployed workers to fill them,” says the Los Angeles Times.

We’re talking about the economic giant that is the U.S. which also has a population of over 300 million. Local employers, of course, know what most of those unfilled jobs are in the U.S. because the faraway NMI with a tiny economy compared to the U.S. and a local population of just over 15,000 is also having a hard time filling them.

Like the U.S., the NMI has had a long history of providing workforce training to its residents. On April 13, 1978, Variety reported that “Herman Cabrera, acting state director for vocational education in the NMI, announced…that U.S. Commissioner of Education Ernest Boyer signed the approval [of the five-year plan], awarding the NMI $200,000…. A research project conducted by the Vocational Education Division last year established the need for improvement of existing Vocational Education programs and for a two-year trade and technical school in the NMI.” (My italics.) On Nov. 27, 1978, Variety announced the graduation of 21 nurses from the Community College of Micronesia School of Nursing on Saipan.

In his 1979 State of the Commonwealth Address, Gov. Carlos S. Camacho mentioned a federal program “already well-organized and functioning,” referring to the 1973 Comprehensive Employment and Training Act or CETA. In 1978, he said, “19 Northern Marianas youth between the ages of 17 and 22 were enrolled, under CETA auspices, at the Hawaii Job Corps Center in Honolulu for training in welding, automotive body and fender repair, day-care center management, refrigeration and air-conditioner maintenance, auto-mechanic training, warehousing, supply and procurement and general office practice.” He said there was a similar program for “underemployed” NMI teachers. Moreover, “119 youths were enrolled in a summer employment program, funded by CETA, which also extended support services to vocational education teachers who were enrolled in…training outside the Northern Marianas.” Governor Camacho added, “As you can see, the program is influencing the lives of many persons.”

In the early 1990s, Northern Marianas College aggressively promoted its vocational education program and hosted Vocational Ed Week activities and events, during which outstanding vocational students and teachers were honored.

So why are there still not enough U.S. workers for certain jobs — healthcare/caregiving, construction, agriculture, hotel-restaurant, retail, business-services, etc. — here and especially in the U.S. where the population is much larger and the pay is way higher?

The simplest answer is: because U.S. workers have a lot of other equally good-paying job choices. Other prosperous nations also have worker shortages in the same job categories. (According to a recent news report, “some 16,000 jobs await Filipino nurses in the UK and at least 154,000 more are available in Hong Kong for household service workers….” There are similar “job offers from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S., among others.”)

In the NMI, local U.S. citizens can avail themselves of college scholarships and choose careers they want, and work and reside anywhere else in their vast nation which is the U.S. Or they can choose to farm or fish. Or to be semi-employed. Or to travel. Like other Americans, they are free to choose. And because they have a lot of choices, they can be choosy. Nothing wrong with that.

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