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Job seekers invade Marine base


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POSTED: Saturday, June 20, 2009

Suit-clad Mohamed Baayd, a religious program specialist for the U.S. Navy, stood out among the aloha shirt-attired job seekers looking for their next adventure at yesterday's 14th annual job fair at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

Baayd speaks several languages and earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a master's degree in human resources during his stint in the military. But, in this economy, even Baayd was concerned about his ability to continue moving full speed ahead when his U.S. Navy enlistment term expires in the next five to 10 months.

“;It's frightening, but I have hope,”; Baayd said in between stops at some of the 40 employer-manned booths. “;I'm willing to relocate anywhere.”;

However, those who have to stay in Hawaii, like Julie Basham, who accompanied her husband here on a Department of Defense transfer, aren't nearly as confident. Yesterday, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations announced that May's unemployment rate in the islands had climbed to 7.4 percent, its highest level since December of 1977.

In May, there were 601,150 employed and 47,850 unemployed, for a seasonally adjusted statewide labor force of 649,000, according to DLIR. Eight hundred jobs were added in Hawaii's professional and business services, and educational and health services grew by 200 jobs. The state's struggling construction industry, which had seen five straight months of job declines, rebounded by 100 jobs.

“;After five months of decline, it is encouraging to see some job growth in the construction industry,”; said DLIR Director Darwin L.D. Ching. “;We are anticipating even greater construction job gains as the governor's capital-improvement projects get under way.”;

Still, there wasn't enough gain to offset the losses last month. As many as 3,400 jobs were lost in Hawaii's state and federal government sectors, while the state's struggling visitor industry lost another 600 jobs. The state's trade, transportation and utilities sector lost 300 jobs in May, and 200 jobs were lost from the financial services sector. Another 200 jobs were lost from religious organizations and the automotive repair and maintenance businesses.

Staggering job loss in Hawaii has prompted DLIR to beef up its Unemployment Insurance Division, said Ryan Markham, DLIR spokesman. Since last fall, 35 employees have been added to help process claims at the division, Markham said. By July 1, the department plans to hire an additional 25 workers and eventually hopes to hire another 30, he said.

“;Our workload has more than doubled,”; Markham said, “;and we must be prepared, since it could continue to get worse. Although we'll be subject to furloughs like everyone else, Gov. Linda Lingle, in her wisdom, has allowed us to continue hiring.”;

Hawaii's unemployment levels and job losses didn't surprise Basham, who despite previous government experience and a high-level security clearance, has been looking for a job on Oahu since November.

“;It's been really hard to find work,”; Basham said. “;Luckily, my husband earns enough that we can get by, but it would help if I could get a job, since it's so expensive here.”;

The dire economy prompted Marine Corps Base Hawaii to open its job fair to the public for the first time, said Jim Gardner, program manager of readiness and community support services at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

“;The response has been overwhelming,”; Gardner said. “;In the first 20 minutes, 400 people walked through this door.”;

The base is mandated to participate in two job fairs a year to help transitioning military members and their families, Gardner said.

Hawaii's high unemployment level motivated Marine Corps Base Hawaii to open its job fair to civilian job seekers and employers, he said.

“;We wanted to be good community stewards,”; Gardner said

At any given time, Marine Corps Base Hawaii runs a 12- to-15 percent vacancy rate, said Col. Robert Rice, commander of Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

“;We want to reach out to native Hawaiians and other groups. We want a localized work force,”; Rice said. “;We want to be seen as a local employer and an employer of choice.”;