Labor convenes CNMI Workforce Development Board

During the first general membership meeting of the newly reorganized CNMI Workforce Development Board on January 18, 2018, Secretary of Labor Vicky Benavente noted that core programs and industry sectors formalized their committees towards aligning and improving workforce programs and economic development for the Commonwealth.

“The CNMI Workforce Development Board is a key component to development, integration, and empowerment through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Under the US Department of Labor (USDOL), this law was designed to assist job seekers and make employment more accessible through education, training and support services. We convened this year with key industry sectors in hospitality, small business, healthcare, gaming, telecommunications, and education. Our initial discussions include the unified state plan for the Commonwealth and modifications to our workforce system and needs. The meeting was a success, and I thank everyone for their participation and commitment to ensuring we meet the mandates of WIOA,” Benavente said.

Benavente clarified that WIOA replaces the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 and includes several reforms.

Federal Programs Manager Frances A. Torres added that the reforms require states to align workforce development so that core programs and skills meet employers’ needs. The reforms also ensure that employment and training is evidence-based and data-driven, fosters regional collaboration, contributes to economic growth and business expansion, provides access to high quality training, improves workforce services for all job seekers—including those with disabilities, prepares youth for successful employment, and increases the performance of the Job Corps program.

Torres adds that through USDOL, the WIOA program emphasizes investment in skill development including employment and training services for adults, dislocated workers, and youth, assistance for adult education, increased literacy programs, and enhanced vocational rehabilitation.

Secretary Benavente emphasized that representation and input of core industries are critical to the economy and is needed to address the Commonwealth’s workforce needs.

“The board’s role includes identifying barriers to workforce needs and better coordinating to avoid duplication of activities in workforce development. The WIOA puts emphasis on a one-stop delivery system through outreach and market analysis. We’ve brought our key industries to the table and we will convene again later this month after our committees outline existing labor demands and needs. We intend to submit state plan modifications to move the CNMI towards workforce transformations outlined in WIOA. I look forward to working with the board to improve training and create a unified state plan that is truly reflective of our current and future labor needs,” Benavente said.

Governor Ralph DLG. Torres expressed that innovation and integration will continue to play a role in US workforce development.

“The CNMI Workforce Development Board through WIOA is one way we are gauging our existing resources to build our workforce, and it will continue to be a critical priority for us moving forward. Bridging the gap between job seekers and employers is ongoing and complementary access to labor is needed. What matters most to me is the need to focus our efforts towards building our US workforce and addressing shortages now and in the long run. At the end of the day, workforce innovation and opportunities are sustained by industry collaboration and will go a long way in addressing the strengths and weaknesses of workforce development activities, capacity, and policies. I thank the new members of our board for their collaboration and commitment to tackling these concerns,” Governor Torres said.

The following committees were established with overall chairperson Josephine Mesta, Hyatt Director of Human Resources, vice-chair Annie G. Hayes, Herman’s Modern Bakery Assistant General Manager, Secretary/Treasurer Polly DLG. Masga, Marianas Medical Center and Velma Palacios, IT&E Engineering and Plant Technical Services Manager.

Under the policy committee is chairperson Secretary of Labor Benavente and vice-chairs Senator Sixto and Rep. Francisco Aguon. Within the economic and workforce committee, chairperson Nicole Babauta, Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Director, and vice-chair Bertha Leon Guerrero, Imperial Pacific International Vice President for Human Resources, chair for the education committee Dr. Carmen Fernandez, President of the Northern Marianas College with vice-chair Esther Muna CHCC Chief Executive Officer, and state programs committee chair Arlene Yamagata, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Director, and vice-chair Lorraine T. Maui, NMC-ABE State Director.

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