The federal Job Corps program accepts about 350 Virgin Islands youth each year for training to enter the workforce, but the job market in the territory isn't at a level for many of them to find employment, business community and government representatives were told Wednesday at a conference at Bluebeard's Castle Hotel.
For that reason, Job Corps representatives are in the territory to seek solutions to the problems they are having placing those who complete the training programs in jobs here.
"Solidifying the Virgin Islands and Job Corps Partnership" is the subject of the conference, which continues today. Advantage Resource Group, the contractor for the V.I. Job Corps program, organized the conference.
Around 20 persons from the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts attended the first day of sessions - including several Job Corps Center directors, local Job Corps counselors, Labor Department officials and representatives of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, individual businesses and political offices. Government participants included Arah Lockhart and Jennifer Aubain from Labor and representatives of the offices of Delegate Donna Christian-Christensen and Sen. Judy Gomez.
Conference organizers said the small turnout of local officials and business leaders was discouraging. They noted that Job Corps is the only skills training program available to local youths who do not graduate from high school.
The Job Corps is a federally funded program for youth ages 16 to 24 who are from low-income homes, have dropped out of school and live in an area in which it is difficult to find entry-level employment and training. There are about 230 Job Corps training centers across the nation; youth from the Virgin Islands participate in training at centers in the eastern and southeastern United States.
Job Corps centers do not receive full funding for training unless they place graduates in long-term jobs within six months of their completion of a program.
"If they aren't more successful here, they are not going to be able to continue to take our youth," Jackie Back of Advantage Resource Group said.
Job Corps representatives presented videos Wednesday showing the program's modern facilities and training programs in nursing, carpentry, automotive repair, electronics, clerical work, computer technology, masonry, plumbing, food service, welding, building maintenance, retail sales and landscaping. They also handed out copies of a 50-page binder full of economic data for the territory. Discussion to a large degree centered on things that aren't getting done locally.
Lockhart expressed support for the program and said the Labor Department looks forward to working more closely with Job Corps under the V.I. Workforce Investment Act which goes into effect Oct. 1.
Participants indicated that Job Corps centers use the St. Thomas Source, and now the St. Croix Source, to keep their Virgin Islands students in touch with news from home. Several downloaded printouts of articles from The Source were included in the binders distributed to conference participants.