October 4, 2023

Re-Building the Labor-Force of the CNMI by expanding Career Pathway Opportunities for students

Co-Authored by Eloise R. Sanchez, R18CC; Lynette Villagomez, R18CC, Phasiree “Poon” Thanasin, R18CC, Beth Ratway, AIR; Donna Gilley, Educational Consultant; Jackie Quitugua, CNMI PSS; Jessica Taylor, CNMI PSS

Imagine a high school student whose goal is to open up a business upon high school graduation. Then imagine this same student going to a local high school who offers an Entrepreneur Career Pathway in the district’s Career & Technical Education (CTE) Program. We don’t have to imagine this anymore because within the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System (CNMI PSS), this student can now graduate from high school with an entry level specialized skill set for Entrepreneurship and be prepared and ready for college or career!

The Region 18 Comprehensive Center (R18CC), along with its partners, Beth Ratway from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), and Educational Consultant, Donna Gilley, have provided expert coaching and technical support to build the capacity of the Career Pathways Task Force and PSS Leadership to develop a comprehensive and high-quality career pathways system that is aligned with the needs of the local industry and supports the needs of the CNMI Labor workforce.

Over the past several decades, the CNMI local workforce continued to dwindle as labor laws and Federal requirements changed, seeing an exodus of non-resident workers who provided the vast majority of trade work in the CNMI. This has left the CNMI with a huge gap in services needed and the labor resources. According to CNMI Labor Secretary Leila Fleming Staffler, it is the foreign labor workforce that has declined by 73%. This huge change has been due to the transition of our immigration system and due to the global pandemic which has affected our economy.  At the same time, the CNMI government has been granted over 2 Billion dollars in infrastructure and disaster relief funding from the Federal government to rebuild our community.  Both issues have created a challenge to finding qualified trade workers to complete these federally funded projects. For the last 5 years of data collected by the US DOL Foreign Labor Certification Office, construction maintenance and installation have been the top workforce needs in the CNMI.  These special skills are desperately needed in our workforce. While we have construction trades available at our local Technical school, it is still early in its implementation and has not produced the number of workers in this industry that we need to fill the gap. 

Leaders throughout the CNMI, including PSS, 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 training programs that align employer needs with education opportunities. Stakeholders from across the CNMI collaborated for several months to identify pathways that would make the most significant workforce impact across the region and were very intentional in aligning the pathways with postsecondary programming. An alignment of current needs of the CNMI community through stakeholder input resulted in resources and tools to help support educators and schools across the CNMI to build powerful 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. The CNMI PSS was able to develop a draft Profile of a CNMI PSS Graduate, five (5) Career Pathways Curriculum Guides; 1) Nursing Assistant, 2) Construction Trades, 3) Hospitality & Tourism, 4) Education & Teaching, and, 5) Entrepreunership, an Implementation, Professional Development, and Evaluation Plan Guide, and a proposed graduation policy.

Now that these documents have been developed, the CNMI PSS is ready to fully implement the Career Pathways Program, using the tools to build high quality career pathway programs but it also includes detailed resources to support local implementation once the programs are designed. These are critical resources to ensure continued support as local career pathways are developed and rolled out.”  According to CNMI Department of Labor Secretary, Leila Fleming Staffler, she commends the CNMI PSS for all the work that they are doing to promote the labor force and the economy of the CNMI PSS. She also shared that she “encourages the CNMI PSS to consider how technology has transformed work … and how to use that technology for work even further, and this will give students a better edge in their workforce transitions.”


In addition to the guides, one of the major successes of the Career Pathways Project is the over ten local community partnership, which has collaborated to have students engage in work-based learning opportunities. Some of these partners include the Northern Marianas College, Guam Marianas Training Center, and the CNMI Department of Labor.


Education Consultant Donna Gilley shared that “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.”


Throughout the development of the Career Pathways, Jackie Quitugua, Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Dr. Jessica Taylor, Career & Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator from PSS, have been forging the way for students to enter into Summer Internships and Career Exploration opportunities to gain knowledge, abilities and skills in the area of specific careers. During the Summer of 2022, PSS had approximately seventeen (17) high school students become certified as “Nursing Assistants.” Dr. Taylor stated that, “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.”


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.”


As the R18CC Career Pathways Project enters its fifth and final year and the torch has been passed on to the CNMI PSS for sustainability, we are hopeful that all CNMI PSS high school students will be career-ready and will have the acquired essential skills for lifelong learning and will have the ability to transition into the workforce to be productive citizens in their community, creating a robust CNMI Workforce!


For further information on this project, please contact Eloise R. Sanchez at Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, sancheze@prel.org or Dr. Jessica Taylor, CTE Program Director, CNMI Public School System, jessica.taylor@cnmipss.org.

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

(Principals, Teachers, Program Staff, and PSS partners pose for a photo with R18CC Co-Director Lynette Villagomez during the delivery of the Curriculum Guides and the Implementation Plan)


Type: Blog


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