January 2024

Expanding Career Pathways for Students in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Co-Authored by Eloise R. Sanchez, Lynette Villagomez, Phasiree “Poon” Thanasin, Beth Ratway, Donna Gilley, Jackie Quitugua, and Jessica Taylor
(Benjamin Jones Jr., Vince Dela Cruz, Lorraine Catienza, Jessica Taylor, Jackie Quitugua, Augustus Loste,  Dave Harwell, Jason Luebke, James Montenegro, Kamal Fanhedrene, Jemma Manibo, Asapmar Ogumoro, and James Sablan with R18CC Co-Director Lynette Villagomez). Photo Credit: Jackie Quitugua

“This project has truly been a community-connected approach where CNMI stakeholders from the business, post-secondary, PSS, and government came together to share their expertise in industry and life to develop a curriculum that will allow the youth of CNMI to learn the skills and knowledge to ensure their success after high school and to build a stronger CNMI workforce. Working with such a passionate group of people has been my pleasure, and I can’t wait to see how this community will grow together.” 


— Donna Gilley

In recent years, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) non-resident workforce decreased as a result of new labor laws and shifting Federal requirements. This led to an exodus of non-resident workers who provided much of the trade work in the CNMI. This left the CNMI with a diminished labor pool. According to CNMI Labor Secretary Leila Fleming Staffler, the CNMI local workforce declined by 9% between the last two censuses, while the foreign labor workforce declined by 73%. Much of this decline was contributed to new CNMI immigration rules and the global COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the CNMI government was granted over 2 billion dollars in Federal infrastructure and disaster relief to stabilize its economy.  These events created both a challenge and an opportunity for the local education community.


For the past four years, the Region 18 Comprehensive Center (R18CC) has provided intensive coaching and technical guidance to grow the capacity of the CNMI PSS Career Pathways Task Force and PSS Leadership to develop a comprehensive and high-quality career pathways system that is both aligned with the needs of local industry and supportive of the CNMI Labor workforce.


In 2019, PSS, alongside the Northern Marianas College (NMC), Northern Marianas Technical Institute (NMTECH), the Department of Labor, and industry representatives, formed a partnership to identify local workforce needs, review its education-to-workforce pipeline, and create new career pathways programs that align employer needs with educational opportunities. The partners were initially tasked with identifying pathways that would make the most significant workforce impact across the region. An alignment of identified needs resulted in the request for R18CC support to develop resources and tools to help support educators and schools across the CNMI to build career pathway programs that will instill the knowledge and skills CNMI students need to meet the needs of local communities. “Those stakeholders were engaged throughout reviewing and editing course standards, identifying and committing to student work-based learning opportunities, and recommending nationally recognized industry certifications.


In collaboration with R18CC, CNMI PSS has developed a Profile of a CNMI PSS Graduate, five career pathway curriculum guides (Nursing Assistant, Construction Trades, Hospitality & Tourism, Education & Teaching, and Entrepreneurship); an Implementation, Professional Development, and Evaluation Plan Guide; and a proposed graduation policy for CNMI BOE consideration.

Click the images below to access and download the PDF files.

“Using the guides to implement and sustain high quality career pathway programs will help ensure continued support as the Career Pathways Program is rolled out.”


— CNMI Department of Labor Secretary, Leila Fleming Staffler

Throughout the development CNMI PSS’s new career pathways, Jackie Quitugua, Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Dr. Jessica Taylor, Career & Technical Education (CTE) Director grew opportunity for students to enter Summer Internships and Career Exploration opportunities to gain knowledge, abilities, and skills related to multiple career pathways. During the Summer of 2022, PSS celebrated 17 high school students become certified as “Nursing Assistants.” Dr. Taylor shared, “We are very excited about the program’s successes and hope that we can continue to build stronger partnerships and leverage resources as the program progresses and expands. Through programs like these, we can immediately see our students achieve their dreams through the CNMI PSS.”

Photo credit: CNMI PSS

Ms. Quitugua shared that “the summer internship is about real-life experience connecting with student interests and choices.  It is responding to the needs of our students and the CNMI and affirming that we need them to be responsive to the needs of the CNMI as they are solutions and contributors in our CNMI, in the community they live in.”

Additional outcomes of the Career Pathways Project include the forged and sustained CNMI PSS community partnerships, which elevate opportunity and proactively work to engage students in work-based learning opportunities, and renewed interest in scaling career pathways across the Insular Areas and Freely Associated States. We at R18CC are excited for CNMI PSS and regional education stakeholders and are energized by the community’s commitment to growing opportunity by ensuring that CNMI PSS high school students are career-ready and have the skills needed for lifelong learning.


For further information on this project, please contact Eloise R. Sanchez, R18CC Project Lead, sancheze@prel.org or Dr. Jessica Taylor, CTE Program Director, CNMI Public School System, jessica.taylor@cnmipss.org.

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