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Labor Tells Senators it Has the Programs, Senators Ask Why They Don’t Connect

Sen. Marise James, left, chaired the committee Thursday, where Labor Commissioner Gary Molloy, right, fielded questions. (Photo from Legislature livestream)

Thursday, senators on the Committee on Education and Workforce Development said agencies testifying had impressive programs, but problems were not being solved.

Gary Molloy, commissioner of Labor, testified, “The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 federal legislation reinforced the role of local workforce boards in workforce development and stressed the importance of cooperation among stakeholders in the workforce development system.”

 Sen. Novelle Francis said, “We have to move away from bureaucracy and red tape.”

Sen. Kenneth Gittens echoed that sentiment in a response to Molloy. “That sounds like a bunch of bureaucracy,” he said. Gittens went on to say that “someone is dropping the ball” regarding the listing of government vacancies with the Labor Department and the government agencies making hires.

The government lists the unemployment rate at 3.5 percent. However, Molloy said the rate is based on a 49 percent participation rate in the labor market. Gittens said the participation rate was “very concerning.” Government officials have said that the territory needs 5,000 to 7,000 more workers to complete all its disaster recovery projects.

Molloy testified that Labor’s Skills for Today initiative “stands out as a pivotal program in the Virgin Islands, providing essential training, certifications, and opportunities for individuals to actively contribute to the recovery, redevelopment, and transformation of our territory.”

He said 541 residents had gone through the program. Thirty-three had completed the supervisory curriculum, 62 welding, 86 electrical, 51 plumbing, and seven pipefitting.

Michael Carty, chairman of the Workforce Development Board, said it is charged with strengthening the workforce development system by collaboratively building partnerships with secondary and post-secondary education, economic development, and the public and private sectors to align and improve economic growth.

He added, “The programs offered by the Virgin Islands Workforce are more than just training; they are pathways to prosperity for individuals and the community.”

However, under questioning, he said the programs in the territory are behind where they should be. He said, “Young people are running into an old system” when they try to join the labor market.

Sen. Franklin Johnson said the programs offered by the Labor Department, the Workforce Development Board, and other agencies testifying, including the Career and Technical Education Board, Career Technical and Adult Education, UVI Cell, UVI RT Park, and My Brother’s Workshop, were amazing.

Johnson then talked about the unemployed young people he saw hanging out on the streets. “Where is the disconnect?” he asked.

After finding out that just about all the programs were free, Sen. Dwayne DeGraff asked, “Why can’t we get them to come in?” Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory questioned whether the “People on St. John were being afforded the same opportunities” as the rest of the territory.

Suzanne Darrow-Magras, director of UVI CELL, testified that CELL classes were income-based, and those who could afford to pay for them did.

She said CELL was launching the following programs this year: surveyor technician certificate program, residential appraiser program, cannabis commerce course, business development and entrepreneurship training, taxi and tour certificate, and community health worker certification.

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