Posted on Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Submitted by Valerie Palamountain, dean of workforce services, Piedmont Virginia Community College

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, it was worldwide, even for Bermuda, a small island nation off the coast of North Carolina. While not in the Caribbean, Bermuda is frequently included in the Caribbean economy. Its palm trees, ocean views and mild temperatures truly make Bermuda a paradise … except for the unemployment rate. Bermuda has not bounced back from the recession.

Since 2006, jobs held by Bermudians have been declining, while jobs held by an immigrant workforce are growing. The median gross annual income for Bermudians is lower than for non-Bermudians. Unemployment is at 7%, and young people are leaving the island for better opportunities abroad.

Bermuda is not alone. The same problem exists in rural areas in Virginia where jobs are scarce, unemployment is high, and young people are leaving for better opportunities.

In 2017, a group of Bermudians from the Ministry of Education and Workforce Development (equivalent to the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Community College System combined) visited the U.S. to learn about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and observe the One-Stop system. Traveling to Kalamazoo, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Raleigh-Durham, the group felt that the One-Stop concept could have a significant impact on the unemployment problem in Bermuda.

Working with Mary Ellen Koenig, the U.S. Consul General, the group was successful in securing a grant from the Fulbright Association for a Fulbright Specialist to come to Bermuda to help them develop a National Workforce Development Plan, a comprehensive strategic plan to address unemployment through workforce development. I was honored to be the chosen Fulbright Specialist for this project.

My role is to work with the Workforce Planning Committee to create the Bermuda National Workforce Development Plan and to recommend the structure of the One-Stop Career Centre for Bermuda. If successful, the plan could become a model for other islands in the Caribbean.

Did I say “If?” There is no doubt in my mind that Bermuda will be successful because they have identified all the critical priorities:

1.Engage employers. Engage employers. Engage employers.
2.Streamline the workforce development system across government agencies.
3.Develop Career Pathways. (Thank you, Elizabeth Creamer!)
4.Have specialized programs for youth, older youth, disabled workers, ex-offenders and high-risk populations.
5.Include everyone in the plan. The One Stop Career Center is open to all.
6.Identify the resources needed and make this a public/private partnership.

The final reason: There is a team who is committed to success: Judy Lowe-Teart, Pandora Glasford and George Outerbridge representing the Department of Workforce Development; Tawana Flood, Tammy Richardson and Trescot Wilson from Bermuda College; and Radell Tankard and LeVar Bassett from the Department of Education. And of course, Senator Jason Hayward, Junior Minister, our awesome leader.

The name of the project: Connecting People with Jobs!

So, where are we now at the end of my assignment?

•The draft of the Bermuda National Workforce Development Plan has been written.
•The presentation to introduce the Plan to our constituents is being finalized.
•Meetings are scheduled with the business community, education, unions and the general public.

Feedback from these meetings will be incorporated into the plan and presented to the Premier’s Cabinet at the end of March.

Then the real work begins. Implement a new system. It sounds so easy.

To my friends in Bermuda, I know you will be successful. You have strong leadership and support from the government. I’m only a Skype away.'

Virginia's Community Colleges

Created more than 50 years ago, the VCCS is comprised of 23 community colleges located on 40 campuses across the commonwealth. Together, Virginia’s Community Colleges serve more than 270,000 students a year in credit and workforce courses.

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