On Monday, 11 Guamanians graduated from the Guam Community College Truck Driving Boot Camp and into new career opportunities - something that many others on island sorely need as we look to a post-pandemic Guam where tourism has lost most of its clientele.
Tourism officials have said it could take years to get back to 2019 levels of visitor arrivals. And watching as Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, like Guam, work to find a balance to get residents vaccinated, and create policies that protect public health while also kick-starting a sluggish economy, it’s difficult for anyone to predict when their citizens will again be able to travel confidently and freely.
The Guam Visitors Bureau has some good ideas, such as opening the island to American expats living in nearby countries to be vaccinated in Guam, and exploring the idea of expanding that opportunity to other nations' citizens. It’s a good start but far from our 1.7 million a year tourist traffic we enjoyed prior to the pandemic.
As a result of the pandemic, thousands of Guamanians found themselves either with fewer working hours or without a job. Many continue to rely on federal unemployment aid that will soon run out.
The Department of Labor has started reaching out to residents who lost their jobs to either match them with another job or help them train for a new job.
Over the past year, Guam Community College, working with local partners including Cabras Marine and Black Construction, has helped dozens of residents learn skills in different fields. In addition to Monday’s truck driving boot camp, the college has held three ship repair classes and next week, more Guamanians will be graduating from the construction boot camp.
These are the types of programs we need to give people an opportunity to reconsider their abilities and skills, and see where else they can apply them.
This rang true for one woman, 48-year-old Patricia Toves, who left the tourism industry searching for job security.
After 30 years of working in the hotel industry, she is one of probably a handful of women now working in a male-dominated industry.
On Monday, she became one of the first women to graduate from GCC's Truck Driving Boot Camp II.
Having worked in tourism since she graduated from high school, it must have been scary to leave behind much of what she knew and foray into something very different.
"I lost a lot of customers. I lost a lot of good friends because they can't come in from Japan; you know I miss my guests. It made me realize that I can't sit around,” Toves said.
But the pandemic forced her to reevaluate her career field.
“I need to do something for myself. I need to pay my bills, I need to feed my family, … I didn't want to wait for something that might take a while to come back around," Toves said.
GCC officials noted that even as tourism ground to a halt, there were other industries that kept rolling. Truck driving was among them. And Toves, taking note of that, took the leap.
It’s great that GCC had that opportunity for her and her 10 classmates. Through their partnerships, GCC officials have pretty much ensured that anyone who successfully completes their courses has a job. And in today’s pandemic-suffocated economy that’s a godsend for many people.
Hopefully, some of the federal dollars that are rolling in will roll into GCC to provide more free training opportunities for Guamanians. With the federal unemployment program nearing its expiration, thousands of Guamanians could sure use the hope - and help.