Help Wanted - Hawaii's Economic Crisis

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Supervisor Ann Marie Lubert, left, shows summer intern
Amber Kuhlmann how to take inventory at GE Supply Hawaii
Inc.'s warehouse. Kuhlmann is a sophomore at
Hawaii Pacific University.

Picky, picky, picky

That's exactly what employers can be
when it comes to hiring new workers
in these tough times

By Rob Perez

Amber Kuhlmann is only a 19-year-old college sophomore, but she's already hooked up with a company she hopes will give her full-time work when she graduates.

If Kuhlmann does well, that's exactly what she'll get.

The Hawaii Pacific University student is a summer intern at GE Supply Hawaii Inc. The internship program is designed to give Kuhlmann an up-close look at what the electrical equipment and supply business is all about.

If her performance measures up, Kuhl-mann will continue to be offered paid internships each summer and a full-time position upon graduation.

In Hawaii's anemic economy, Kuhlmann's path to employment underscores what high school and college students -- and even people looking to change careers -- should be doing to make themselves more marketable in a time of scarce jobs, career services officials say.

Get relevant work experience. Develop good computer and communication skills. Be able to do many tasks. Show an ability to work well on a team.

What do you think?

Those are among the key attributes employers are looking for today when they fill positions, according to executives who help place people in jobs.

And unlike the boom years of the past, when jobs were plentiful and candidate pickings slim, employers can be much more demanding in hiring, especially for jobs beyond entry level.

If you don't come across as a candidate with a good work ethic, solid experience and specific talents needed by the employer, kiss your chances goodbye.

Companies aren't inclined to take as many chances with hires today as in the past. Not when training is so costly and time-consuming and efficiency so critical.

"It's an employer's market right now, so they can afford to be very selective on who they hire," said Nancy Oide, career coordinator for Chaminade University.

Companies are so focused on hiring the right people that more and more are doing what GE Supply does -- trying to identify potential hires while the candidates are still in school.

The companies establish intern programs so they can give students some hands-on experience. In return, the employers get to size up the interns' skills and work habits. The better ones can be groomed for full-time employment.

Lianne Maeda, director of HPU's career planning and placement center, said internships through the college have tripled the past two years. Demand is so high that Maeda sometimes can't find enough students to fill all the positions.

"It's the most I've ever seen," she said.

Maeda said credentials and work experience aren't the only qualities employers seek in job prospects. They also look for enthusiasm, creativity, dedication, initiative -- intangible qualities that help candidates stand out, she said.

"Employers today want the whole package," Maeda said.

Stacy Hasegawa, operations manager for Altres Staffing, an employment services agency, said the easiest people to place into jobs are those who are computer literate -- knowing popular software programs like Microsoft Word for Windows and Excel is helpful -- and those who can do a variety of tasks.

The latter is important because as companies downsize, they need employees who can do more than one job, Hasegawa said.

For her part, Kuhlmann is getting a taste of many different jobs at GE Supply.

She spends much of her time shadowing company employees.

Kuhlmann said the experience will help no matter what career she pursues.

"When someone sees I've done an internship at a company like this, they're going to know I'm learning the business," she said.

The complete package

What employers look for in job candidates:
Ability to handle complex tasks, problems
Ability to communicate (verbally, in writing, via computer)
Ability to function as team player
Ability to operate across cultures
Work experience

Source: David Lohmann, Hawaii Pacific University management professor

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Bridal Emporium's Millie Blaza helps Christy Jose
try on her wedding gown as fiance Vince May looks on.

When it
comes to Hawaii,
service is job one

It will represent almost half
of the jobs created

By Rob Perez

In Hawaii's new economy, the engine of employment isn't likely to be high-tech and high-paying.

Far from it.

Instead, think services. Think low-to-moderate pay. Think low-to-moderate skills.

That's what will characterize the bulk of Hawaii's job growth through the year 2005 -- if the state's projections are on the mark.

Of the 40 occupations forecast to have the most new jobs from 1994 to 2005, roughly 60 percent could be considered entry-level or slightly higher.

At the top of the list: retail salespersons, followed by waiters, cashiers, general office clerks and maids.

As long as Hawaii is known and marketed predominantly for its sun, sand and surf, it stands little chance of developing high-tech industries, and much of the job growth will be in low-tech, low-paying positions, said David Lohmann, Hawaii Pacific University management professor.

And even that growth may be minimal.

When Hawaii finally stops losing jobs, the turnaround will be modest, with annual growth of about 2.5 percent to 3 percent at best, Lohmann said.

"It's not going to go to boom times ever again," he said.

The service industry will dominate growth between 1994 and 2005, representing nearly 50 percent of the jobs created, according to Naomi Harada, chief of research for the state Department of Labor & Industrial Relations.

Where the jobs will be

Partnership looks to
‘Jump Start’ Oahu’s economy

The group hopes to promote job growth
and competitiveness

By Rob Perez

The buzzword is collaboration.

Involve a wide roster of key players, devise plans with specific and reachable goals and take action. Emphasize action.

That's how Oahu's private sector, in conjunction with government, labor, education and community groups, is trying to chip away at the county's -- and by extension the state's -- economic woes.

The overall goal: to promote job growth and make Hawaii more competitive in a global marketplace.

If the objective sounds lofty, the initial steps for the "Jump Start Oahu" program, spearheaded by the nonprofit Oahu Economic Development Board, have been relatively modest. But the hope is that a lot of small victories gradually will make Oahu's major industries more competitive, helping the overall economy.

Representatives from the island's key industry clusters -- travel and tourism, defense, health care, technology, and education -- have identified problems and opportunities for each area and are developing strategies for dealing with them.

Doug Henton, the economic guru who helped Northern California's Silicon Valley craft its heralded business attraction plan, is assisting with Oahu's effort.

"This is a very pragmatic group that wants to go after doable projects," said Mike Herb, a stock brokerage executive and president of the Hawaii Society of Corporate Planners.

A typical effort: The health care sector is setting up a marketing cooperative to pitch Hawaii services to potential patients in the Asia-Pacific region. It marks the first time Oahu's private providers are pooling resources to drum up business, said Bernice Bowers, executive director of the economic board.

Though the isle economy has been ailing for about seven years, the private and public sectors on Oahu didn't team up to deal with the downturn until two years ago, giving birth to the Jump Start program.

Oahu lags the neighbor islands in forming public-private partnerships to stimulate economic growth. Maui's joint effort started about 15 years ago, for instance, and is one reason that island is well ahead of Oahu in nurturing a technology industry.

Some, however, wonder wheth-er such collaborative efforts can make much of a difference in removing Oahu's major barriers to economic growth.

The problem is government overregulation and too many strong unions, and unless you get rid of both, Hawaii still will be an expensive place to do business, said Henry Iida, president of T. Iida Contracting Ltd., a 40-employee construction firm.

"That's a culture that's been around for umpteen years, and I don't see anybody changing it overnight," he said.

Still, Iida said he was happy people were trying to improve the economy. "They might luck out and come up with some bright ideas," he said.

How has the slump affected you?

Carla Venable, Travel agent

Carla Venable, 36, of Hilo, used to make more money doing child care than she does in her current job as a travel agent. She got out of child care in part because the state paid for some of the children, and it was always late with its payments, she says.

Now she works strictly on commission in a business where customers are looking for travel bargains.

"No one can really afford not to look for bargains," she said. That includes herself using coupons when shopping for groceries. "I would never use coupons before."

She and her husband have three children in high school, where school fees include money for class dues, yearbooks, and band uniforms, she said. "On both our incomes, we're just making out. The majority of the time, we still need to ask the grandparents (for help)."

Dubious Distinction

Hawaii ranked second-worst
in the nation (ahead of only Arkansas)
for funding of public education in 1995.

Source: Education Week

Wanted: Your comments
What needs to be done to help Hawaii emerge from
its prolonged slump? Write to us at Letters to the
Editor/Economy, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, HI 96802
or e-mail us at and share
your suggestions. Please include your
daytime telephone number.

No Frames Directory:
Economy Special Section Home Page
Order a printed copy of this report

[ Home Page]
[Letter to the Editor] [Feedback]

© 1997 Honolulu Star-Bulletin