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HomeNewsArchivesWAPA CHIEF WANTS TO TRAIN, RETAIN LOCAL TALENT

WAPA CHIEF WANTS TO TRAIN, RETAIN LOCAL TALENT

Feb. 6, 2002 – For the past few years, as part of a local career education program, students the territory have spent part of February observing the work of trades people and professionals across the territory. The exercise is called Job Shadowing.
Now, one of the territory's top executives says he would like to do some shadowing of his own.
Joseph Thomas, executive director of the Water and Power Authority, says he wants to do more to keep bright and talented Virgin Islands students from leaving home for greener pastures.
"We may be developing a program to get the kids early in their educational careers," he said. The idea of creating such a program, he said, is one that he's been interested in since his days as a utilities executive in Wisconsin.
Thomas, who relocated to the territory last year, says the goal of such a program would be to identify student achievers with proven ability in science and math. Those students would then be encouraged to develop their skills through after-school programs and later would be linked with WAPA engineers and technicians who would serve as their mentors.
"So, in time, we can go less and less off island to seek our future employees," he said.
Thomas said he would like to get the program going by the start of the next school year.
While WAPA's outreach and mentoring program is still in the idea stage, it's an idea that gets high marks from the leader of the School-to-Work program now in its third year in the public school system.
"The fact that a business wants to do it — that's great," territorial School-to-Work coordinator Rebecca Dedmond said. "I think it's an incredible idea."
School-to-Work is a federally funded joint program of the Labor and Education Departments. It encourages students to learn more about the world of work and to explore career fields of interest.
Thomas said he has discussed his ideas with executives at two of the territory's largest private employers, Hovensa and Innovative Communication Corp., and found they were thinking along the same lines. Hovensa already has a program in place targeting high school students.
"We run a tutoring and mentoring program, and Hovensa is one of our main sponsors," Bob Halk said. At the Shining Star program that Halk and his partner, Drew Villamanga, run on St. Croix, there are 55 youngsters involved. Ten are high school seniors who help tutor the other 45. They are helped by Hovensa employees who also serve as tutors. The seniors are all eligible for company college scholarships.
The Shining Star program also is assisted by the School-to-Work program directly. Dedmond contacts the parents of the youngsters who are involved and talks with them about the kind of guidance they need to provide their children.
Locally, large companies often are scrutinized for their hiring practices and questioned about their decisions to import workers from abroad instead of hiring from within the community.
Of greater concern to Thomas, however, is that "we have a serious problem with youth flight." By the time companies such as his reach out to the best and brightest young Virgin Islanders, he says, they already have made plans to go off island and pursue careers elsewhere.
Dedmond recently said the federal funding for the School-to-Work program is soon to expire, despite her requests to Washington authorities for an extension. She's hoping the local business community will step in. "It's important to keep the program going after the federal grant component expires," she said.

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