Fifteen men wearing purple leis entered the Guam Power Authority conference room in Mangilao to a cheering crowd on Friday. They're now certified skilled workers or, as they're called in their profession, journeymen.

The ceremony, which GPA officials referred to as a "significant milestone," meant this group now joins 54 others who've completed the GPA apprenticeship program, which strives to develop its workforce to meet current and future demands in the utilities industry.

To put into perspective how much a journeyman has accomplished, GPA General Manager John Benavente said next year's class of 20 will come from an applicant pool of around 300.

"Your (certification) is going to open up a lot of opportunities," Benavente said. The program has national recognition with the U.S. Department of Labor.

He then elicited a few laughs, adding, "But don't look too far; just stay with GPA."

The next generation of GPA

With GPA facing mounting retirements in the coming years, Benavente said the graduates represented the next generation of GPA leaders and should be ready for the shift coming in the way the utility conducts business.

Keynote speaker Shirley Mabini, director of the Guam Department of Labor, urged the graduates to be ready to accept and embrace change, which she said is inevitable.

"Remind yourself that your work matters every single day," she said. "Work to impact positively the lives of others."

Mabini also explained to graduates the importance of the Department of Labor journeyman certificate.

"This is only awarded to the most qualified individuals and it is a distinct recognition," she said. "Your technical skills are much higher than a lot of college students. You have to be proud of that."

She also mentioned the graduates didn't have to incur college tuition debt in obtaining their certificates, adding many college students today face increasing debt upon their graduation.

A June 13 article in Forbes magazine called the nation's student loan debt, totaling $1.52 trillion, "a crisis."

"That's the beauty of this certificate and it speaks loudly," Mabini said. "A person who graduates with a diploma doesn't give an employer a guarantee that he or she can do the job, but your certificate does because they've testified that you can do it."

The certified journeyman graduates of this year's class included: four load dispatchers; five line installer-repairers; two electricians; one welder and three powerhouse mechanics. Each completed more than 140 hours of academic instruction, coupled with 8,000 hours of on-the-job training.

'Things are happening on this island'

When Gov. Eddie Calvo delivered his remarks, he recognized GPA was investing in its employees.

He then touted how his administration has led the island while the unemployment rate has lowered from more than 13 percent to 4.5 percent today.

"Things are happening on this island," Calvo said.

He also noted the skill sets the journeymen now possess, noting he'd signed 1,600 H-2B visa-certification applications in the last month alone, and was anticipating more than 2,000 foreign workers next year as a result of the military buildup.

"There is something bittersweet about America changing its immigration policy because it makes things difficult here for industries on Guam," Calvo said. "But the silver lining is, 'Hey, wait a minute, why do we need 2,000 or 3,000 or 4,000 skilled workers in Guam?... The silver lining is that over the next 10 years there is going to be demand for a skilled workforce."


Guam's new Labor-certified journeymen are: Shawn Paul Aquino; David Belamide; Roderick Calvo; Arthur Chargualaf; Justin Ferrer; Ryan Hattori; Matthew Munoz; Ryan Nauta; Matthew Navarro; Eugene Rivera; Franklin Rosario Jr.; Jason Sablan; Kyle Siguenza; Shaun Tatiana; and Tony Jacob Terlaje.