Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. laid out a plan to stabilize the territory’s economy and create a sustainable and thriving workforce during two daylong workforce development summits in both districts this week, according to Government House.
“This summit will highlight how workforce development has to evolve from a problem-focused approach, from simply addressing issues of low-skilled workers or the need for more employees in a particular industry,” Labor Commissioner Gary Molloy said at the first summit meeting which was held Tuesday on St. Thomas.
“The short version is, businesses want good people, talented people. Education wants to connect them together,” Molloy reportedly said. “However, our labor market data is showing that there is a language barrier between people, education and the world of work.”
Both meetings were reportedly attended by a variety of business and nonprofit leaders.
Bryan said he has been developing his plan, which he calls “Cradle to Careers,” over the past 12 years.
To reflect his outlook, he said he is asking the Legislature to rename the Department of Labor as the Department of Workforce Development and Security.
“When you get a job, your whole future changes. When you get that job you’ve always been looking for, it just changes everything,” Bryan said. “You have income coming into the family. You get a sense of purpose. You’re able to create yourself, buy a home, get a new car, move to a different economic level. You connect. You’re a part of society. You belong to something,” he added.
“Developing a workforce is one of the most important things that we want to do,” he said.
The statement from Government House laid out areas of focus but does not give much detail about how it is to be done, what funding is needed or where that funding would come from. It is more a list of goals that, if accomplished, would lead to economic development and workforce development, than a detailed plan.
Bryan’s plan reportedly includes:
– Bolstering the education system through investing in early childhood education.
– Investing in university programs aligned with the territory’s growth sectors.
– Creating charter programs for gifted students.
– Reducing single female households by 30 percent and increasing household income to 10 percent above the national average.
– Strengthening access infrastructure through low-cost wireless broadband.
– Maximizing public computer centers’ for students to learn online.
– Providing every student with internet access and a device to use it.
“Workforce development is the biggest part of economic development,” Bryan said. “For years we’ve been building things and thinking that’s economic development. Unless you move people from one economic sector into another economic sector, you’re not really doing economic development.”
“Some of the immediate steps” the governor proposed include:
– Creating a University of the Virgin Islands business school to build a financial sector.
– Promoting the UVI Research and Technology Park.
– Creating an active cargo shipping hub to give rise to new businesses on St. Croix.
– Expanding refinery operations.
– Upgrading transshipment capabilities for containers.
– Diversifying the tourist base to 20 percent Asian visitors, 30 percent European visitors and 50 percent American visitors.
Several of the immediate steps specified by Government House appear aspirational because they are complex and difficult to carry out immediately. For example, the statement does not specify what steps the V.I. government could take “immediately” to cause 20 percent of tourists to be Asian. Reducing single-parent households and increasing household incomes to more than the national average also appear complex and the statement is unclear on how these beneficial goals will be accomplished.
Bryan also reportedly identified a number of hurdles facing the territory’s efforts to grow its workforce:
– The price of energy.
– Labor force availability.
– Availability of capital.
– Increasing local investing.
– Building the territory’s status and representation and how it is affected by federal legislation.
“There is no separation about workforce development. From cradle to grave, there is no separation,” Bryan said. “Education has got to stop seeing itself as K-12. It has to start seeing itself as part of a workforce development system that includes post-secondary.”
“We’re still operating like we’re in 1965. It’s 2020,” he continued. “Everything that’s in government must be powered by technology. We must lead the way in technology. By the time I leave this office, you should be able to do every single government service from your smart phone. That’s where we need to be.”