Interest in internships runs high


POSTED: Friday, August 14, 2009

While the economic slump has dimmed job prospects for many teenagers and adults, internships are helping some young job hunters get a foot in the door.

Nineteen-year-old Brandon Ching, who grew up in Kaimuki and attends Tufts University in Massachusetts, came back home to spend his second summer interning at The Gas Co.

Assisting in the engineering department might not be as glamorous a summer job as lifeguarding, but Ching figures that at $12.99 an hour, the pay now—and the payoff later in terms of finding permanent work—will make it worthwhile.

“;I think it will give me a real advantage,”; Ching said. “;This kind of work experience is much more meaningful to my career than lifeguarding. It also gave me enough money to buy warm clothes for the cold winter at school.”;

While some Hawaii companies have cut back on summer jobs in the wake of the dwindling economy, The Gas Co. is just one example of a local company that seems to be bucking the trend.

“;Internships won't go away, but they have been harder to find this summer,”; said Beth Busch, president of Success Advertising, which runs the state's largest job fair.

In some cases, Hawaii's internships have gone the way of summer jobs for teens, which have dwindled in the tough economy. The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported earlier that work permits for 16- and 17-year-olds in Hawaii had decreased 30 percent from 2008 and that permits for 14- and 15-year-olds fell 20 percent during the same period.

“;Hawaii's businesses have less work that needs to be done, and many of them don't have the available time to invest in internship training,”; Busch said.

Still, internships remain a valuable way for students and job applicants to network and build skills, Busch said. Despite the downturn, many Hawaii companies still recognize the benefits, she said. And, as more and more older workers are displaced, many of them are looking for internship opportunities, Busch said.

“;Older workers who have lost their jobs may need new skills and might not want to go back to school,”; she said. “;Some of them are willing to work as interns for little or no money for the chance to show employers what they can do.”;

Judy Bishop, owner of the Honolulu-based staffing company Bishop & Co., said the economy motivated her to hire her company's first intern this summer.

“;It was a great experience,”; Bishop said. “;It helped us get more value out of this economy.”;

That's why The Gas Co. has remained committed to its internship program and, despite the down economy, chose to hire 19 college and college-bound students this summer, said Kenneth Yamamoto, vice president of human resources at The Gas Co.

“;It's very cost-effective for us,”; Yamamoto said. “;Both sides benefit. We are getting so-called cheap labor and a chance to develop relationships with potential employees. The students gain the kind of valuable work experience that is so often missing from a resume.”;

Chaz Umamoto, 21, who is finishing up a liberal arts degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said his internship at The Gas Co.'s human resources department helped make him more marketable.

Umamoto said although he currently does not want to pursue a career in human resources, the experience was still worthwhile.

“;If I were to manage my own business, I'd have to know how to check spreadsheets and look at laws,”; he said.