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Gubernatorial teams have mixed ideas on how to source qualified professionals

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ASBA questions them on how to overcome American Samoa’s ‘serious shortage’

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — American Samoa’s shortage of qualified and trained local professionals has been a long standing problem for the territory, which depends on recruiting many of these skills from off island.

And the American Samoa Bar Association raised this issue during its gubernatorial forum last week, pointing out that “American Samoa has a serious shortage of qualified and trained local professionals.”

“If elected, how would your administration overcome the continuous shortage of local qualify professionals and reduce the need to hire from off-island?” was the question posed with the four certified gubernatorial teams for the Nov. 3rd general election.


The gubernatorial team of I’aulualo for governor and Tapaau Dr. Dan Mageo Aga, for lieutenant governor, was the first to reply, in accordance with the format of the forum.

“I think if we get professionals from off island, specialists, willing to come to American Samoa, we should welcome them, we should thank them,” said Tapaau, who noted that he has heard of an Orthodontist at LBJ Medical Center helping many people and this is the kind of help needed by American Samoa, which also needs a cardiologist and medical professionals in the field of diabetes.

He said recruiting professionals from off island “depends on the [local] need”, and cited for example, Primary Care, where there is a shortage of qualified medical professionals. But “we can build from the ground. We can build the expertise from here in American Samoa, let them go to [medical] school” off island and return to work, he said.

“In education, we can build and certify people in content areas from K-12. It’s something we can build locally,” he said and noted that at the local community college, it’s good to have a diverse faculty, to bring in people from off island, “so our students can be exposed to people from different parts of the world, people with different ideas, and people with different ways of communicating knowledge.”

As for professionals in infrastructure and utilities, “we need to build our trade schools, that’s something we can build on island. But for more specialized skills — engineering, mechanical engineering, even certain financial management skills — we have to go off island,” he said.

He elaborated that, “what I’m saying is, on the balance, we need to practice both methods. Do what we can on island to meet certain levels and meet certain needs, but we can’t ignore the fact that we also depend on specialists coming from off-island.”

I’aulualo added, “we can maintain our people, and qualify people here on island, if we develop an economy that would be able to provide jobs for these qualified people. We can train as much as we want, but people will continue to leave until we have developed an economy that is able to develop work for our people, qualified people.”


Next to respond was the team of Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga, for governor and Talauega Eleasalo Va’alele Ale for lieutenant governor.

“We emphasis human capital development with a focus not only on job creation and retention but also the alignment of education, workforce and the economic development initiatives,” said Lemanu. “An educated and skilled workforce is the key to creating American Samoa’s competitive advantage in the 21st Century.”

“If elected, our administration supports the delivery of academic and trades programs designed to meet the demands of our local industry,” he explained. “Workforce development initiatives can be made possible, through certification programs.”

For example, expansion of trade schools in high demand local industries, including construction, information communication, technology, fisheries, tourism, medicine and agriculture.”

He pointed out that the team’s education platform also “touches on our commitment to college, career, and life readiness for our people. Integrating science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics initiatives into K-12 curriculum.”

Furthermore, increasing and targeting government scholarships in high need-workforce area, invest in trades technology, agriculture, fishery and entrepreneurial training and expanding after school extra curriculum programs to keep students engaged in productive, and constructive initiatives.

“These are examples, of realistic and achievable ways we are committed to addressing the shortage of qualify and trained local professionals. We have to give our people the tools and resources they need to be competitive with specialized skills,” Lemanu said.


Candidate for lieutenant governor, Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr., responded for the Nua and Satele team, saying that the government needs to provide “incentives” for professionals who are already on island so they can stay longer.

“We need to be able to create incentives that would allow them to want to stay and continue to help serve,” he said, noting that in the short-term, “our vision [is] to provide incentives such as fair salary, medical benefits, housing, travel etc. that’s offered to contract workers.”

In the long term, “the Nua and Satele team believes... we need to be able to develop the local capacity of our people in the professional areas of government needs.  That means we need to revisit our scholarship program. We need to look at what scholarships we are offering and offer scholarships based on government needs,” he said.

Once local students graduate from off island, offer them an opportunity to return home to work, on the “Toe Fo’i Mai Program”, with a benefit/salary package, similar to the ones offered to others hired from off island.

“Why is it our children that receive this type of education and professional career cannot be given the same package?” he asked.

“When they come home they don’t receive that package. And what do they do? They leave,” he said.  “In order for us to retain them, we need to bring them back home, have a [benefit] package” showing that they are appreciated for the education that they pursued.


Candidate for governor, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie said it’s important for the government to find out from all sectors as to the specific professional types of skills needed.

And then send off island American Samoans to be educated on specific needed professional skills and upon their return, they can train local workforce  — “train the trainer” in their professional skills because not all can be sent off island for further education.

Additionally, it’s important that the government makes scholarships a priority — because there are certain types of professional fields that are hard to fill locally — such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, auditors and other professions.

He also said that not all students can get scholarships off island but points out that Nu’uuli Vocational Technical High School is where students can obtain specialized skills in areas such as electricians, carpenters and plumbers. However he says that American Samoans appear to be no longer interested in these important skilled jobs.

For example, he made the observation that when you call a company looking for an air conditioner, they show up. However, you see a Samoan carrying the air conditioner, while the Filipino or Chinese has the tool bag for the work.

According to Gaoteote, local residents are too dependent too on having these specialized skills recruited from off island, while such skills could be obtained locally in trade schools.

Samoa News will continue reporting in future editions other questions from the forum.