Partnering for Meaningful Employment

Let me tell you a story. As many cousins go, my first cousin, Michael and I had fun together. I was in college, taking science classes and Michael, who was only a year younger, had a reading level of less than kindergarten. He was in his twenties, and although he could not articulate it, I could tell he was frustrated with his life. He had no relationships outside of his family and dependent on family for the smallest purchases like chocolate or soda. One day, I came to visit and learned that he had a job – sorting hangers 3-4 hours a day. I had never seen him so happy. Finally, he was socializing, he was earning income, and was able to purchase his favorite album Michael Jackson’s Thriller. We teased him about his new girlfriend and sometimes joked about borrowing money from him. He was now just a regular person, with friends, with a job and could spend his own money to purchase Michael Jackson albums.

This story is important because too often, we think about persons with disabilities as “unemployable.” Businesses worry about the liability involved in hiring persons with disabilities. They are no more of a liability to a business as a “normal” person. A normal person will still have accidents; a normal person will make mistakes; a normal person may not be a right fit for the job. But given the right tools and accommodation, a person with disabilities can be a great employee. Often, they are so grateful to have a job; they become your star employee.

The key to any successful employment is knowing the person’s capabilities and finding the right fit, in the right job. For example, a person with a learning disability but smiling personality might be the perfect greeter at a national retail store or be the most helpful bagger at the local grocery. Another might wipe utensils for two hours before the evening crowd arrives at a restaurant. One fulltime position might be filled by three or four different employees with disabilities.

A survey from Guam Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistic website show that Guam’s unemployment rate as of June 2017 was 4.5%. This same survey showed that 48,540 of our approximate 167,400 population (CIA Worldfact, 2018) are not in the labor force. Of the 48,500 individuals, 5,510 wanted a job but did not look for one. Approximately 4000 H2B temporary workers are approved to work in the Guam military buildup project. Translation: about, one-third of our population are not working, and we have enough people wanting jobs, if given proper training and tools, can work in those 4,000 approved H2B jobs. Of course, it is unrealistic to think that all 5,500 individuals can fill those 4,000 H2B jobs. The military buildup will not happen overnight, nor will it end next year. Guam will likely need to hire H2B workers over a period of several years. But we need to be preparing those 5,500 potential employees through job training now. We need to get our people with disabilities into meaningful jobs and contribute to our economy. And let’s not forget, companies with Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contracts may be required to hire or make a good faith effort to recruit women in non-traditional jobs, veterans, and individuals with disabilities.

The Guam Community College (GCC), Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities/Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DISID/DVR) are partnering with Pacific Human Resource Services (PHRS) in hosting a job fair for GCC’s graduating students, who incidentally, have disabilities. GCC is opening its facility to host the job fair, DISID/DVR has federal grants slated to help fund vocational experience or skills training in the workplace and eventual permanent employment for these students. PHRS, with its connection with businesses, match employers with potential employees. This event will occur on April 20 at GCC, Building 400 from 8:30am – 1:00pm.

The idea of public-private partnerships is not new. There are several public-private partnerships (PPP) already established on Guam. For example, Guam Power Authority, a government entity, partners with a private company to maintain and operate the power plants on Guam. The Guam Visitors Bureau partners with the hotel and food & beverage businesses to promote Guam’s tourism industry. The public-private partnership among GCC, DISID/DVR and private companies can help stimulate the economy by getting more people into the workforce.
And by the way, Michael, was not a liability. He was a good employee.

Originally printed in the April 16, 2018 issue of the Marianas Business Journal

Grace Donaldson is the COO/General Manager of Pacific Human Resource Services, providing training, HR consulting, recruitment and staffing, and drug testing services. PHRS may be contacted by phone: 671-637-6906 or email: or visit its website: