Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, August 2, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Diane Johnson landed an entry-level office job at Queen’s
Health Care through a temp agency. Such agencies report
not all graduates have enough work experience to merely
get a foot in the door for a temporary job.

Graduation daze
College graduates of the Class of '99 came of age expecting the worst due to Hawaii's gloomy economic climate.
The difficulty of the job search, as always, is dependent on factors such as one's choice of major, work experience and willingness to expect lower wages to stay in Hawaii.
Those who prepared well, or whose school programs featured dedicated internship and placement opportunities, are finding the job search no more difficult than usual.
A couple of months after graduation, here's how the Class of 1999 is faring as they attempt to enter the rank and file of work life. Class of 2000, take heed.

Stories By Treena Shapiro

WHILE technically trained graduates reap the benefits of a competitive job market, their more liberally-educated counterparts find the climate disappointing as they hit the streets.

Graduates expect four years of penance and a piece of parchment to land them in the $30,000 to $40,000 salary range right out of college. "That may not be realistic," said Lianne Maeda, the director of Career Services at Hawaii Pacific University.

Many successful graduates started their career preparation while still in school. Relevant work-experience through a job, an internship or volunteer work makes an applicant more marketable than someone who concentrated solely on class work. "Employers look at the whole package," Maeda said.

Some inexperienced workers balk at the prospect of entering the work force at salaries of $18,000 to $22,000 a year. Susan Morita, a human resources officer at Bank of Hawaii, said entry-level wages vary. But breaking into the business world is more than just making money. "Sometimes it's paying their dues and learning the business," Morita said.

Often graduates are disillusioned by all the talk about Hawaii's poor economy. Two months after receiving a degree in American Studies from the University of Hawaii, Kevin Palmer said, "Like many students, I haven't found a job, because of the economy. I'll probably end up going back to grad school."


Maeda sees several students return to school in an effort to improve their chances in the job market. Instead of working through the business ranks, they think that a graduate degree will boost them into the $50,000 salary range.

"They're just prolonging the continuum," Maeda said. "They still need to do things."

Those returning to school can increase their earning potential by getting an office job through the university. Mary Pattee, the owner of Remedy Intelligent Staffing, said that they saw several graduates at the Workforce 2000 job fair last month, but their resumes made them hard to place. "We didn't pursue them because they didn't have that actual experience that we need to be able to sell to our clients," she said.

Remedy guarantees its clients temporary workers with at least six months office experience. Occasionally, workers with strong computer and typing skills have enough business sense that Remedy feels confident in placing them without experience. "Sometimes we offer (clients) a lower rate just to get them in the door, to get that experience," Pattee said.

But often Remedy's applicants do not possess the requisite business sense. "Some of them are so green that you know if you send them to a client, you'll get a call of complaint," Pattee said.

Vicki von Stroheim-Seay, general manager at Staffing Partners, said that her company offers training to help applicants gain office skills for competition in a tight job market. "Unlike our sister companies on the mainland who are screaming for applicants -- they really, really need people -- we have a surplus here in Hawaii, so the most qualified are those that go out first," von Stroheim-Seay said.

Dianne Vodegel, a personnel manager at Altres Staffing, said that she has not seen as many applicants as she saw last summer. The ones that she did see were blown away when they found out that starting salaries for graduates were much lower than $30,000 a year. Companies want experience as opposed to a degree, Vodegel said.

"(The graduates) work so hard to get a degree, but then clients tell us, 'OK, they have a degree, but where's the work experience,' " she said.

This sort of reaction has contributed to the mood of apathy that Maeda has observed among the graduates. The graduates hear that the economy is making it hard to find a job, and when they fail to find work quickly, it feeds into that apathy. Then when resources are offered to the graduates, they are already too jaded to take advantage of them. "The jobs are coming in," Maeda said. "But where are the students?"

Ryan Hironaka, who earned a BSBA in accounting from HPU in May, is one of those who took advantage of the resources offered through his school. In December he found a temporary state job via HPU's Career Services. Two weeks after that job ended he still had not been offered a job in his field, but he had already interviewed with companies who posted job openings through HPU. "When they place the ads there, they pretty much know that recent graduates are going to be applying," he said.

Although Hironaka thinks that there are probably more opportunities on the mainland, he plans to try building a career for himself in Hawaii first. His obstacle is finding an entry-level position with only a short accounting internship as relevant experience. "I guess for me the hardest thing is all these places asking for accounting experience and not having any," he said.

Almost two months after graduation, Hironaka's one job offer in his field was unappealing. "It rubbed me the wrong way," he said.

Instead, he decided to take a temporary job in the personnel department of a local airline, which he looks at as a good opportunity to get his foot in the door at a big company.

Christine Lam, a BBA in Finance and International Business from UH, has given up on finding a job in Hawaii. She started looking for a job through UH's Career Services during her last semester. "I haven't had any offers," she said, but she admits that she was selective about where she applied.

Lam will be moving to Florida for a six-month finance associate internship at Walt Disney World. "I'm hoping that will turn into something permanent after," she said.

After five years of studying architecture at UH, some graduates have found few job openings in Hawaii. Lisa Marie Cabanting is taking the summer off before starting her job search, but she said she will likely follow fellow graduates to Washington state, where she said there is more opportunity.

Fellow architecture graduate Reo Sales Guillermo said he prefers to tough it out here. He filed applications with a few companies, but that had no openings.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Marie Kumabe, internship director at the UH School of
Travel Industry and Management, counsels Lisa Iriarte, left.

All’s rosy for the
computer literate

A degree in information technology means a first-class ticket to Silicon Valley for many Hawaii graduates, but local companies aren't letting them get away without a fight.

And, even though the earning potential lure isn't part of the local strategy many graduates choose the Hawaii options package.

According to the career outlook surveys for Santa Clara County, Calif. in 1998 and the State of Hawaii in 1997, inexperienced graduates with computer-related degrees can enter the Santa Clara work force and make a only pennies less than they would after years of experience in Hawaii.

For instance, the median hourly wage for an inexperienced systems analyst in Santa Clara is $20.38 and after three years of experience, the median jumps to $27.56. In Hawaii, the median wage for systems analysts of all experience levels is $20.97.

Despite figures like these, some large Hawaii firms have advantages.

"We are competitive in every position," said Susan Morita, a personnel officer for Bank of Hawaii.

"Our focus is to help stop the brain drain," Morita said. Like every successful business, the bank recruits the most qualified candidates, but it tries to hire more people from Hawaii. "It's always good to hire from within," she said. "People know the culture and they know what aloha spirit means. Customer service is that much easier to teach."

Besides recruiting locally, the personnel officers are trying to draw former residents back to the islands by advertising jobs through Hawaii clubs on the mainland. "That's where the greatest effort is, to bring them back here," Morita said.

Bank of Hawaii also stops some residents from leaving. Last year Bank of Hawaii hired University of Hawaii Management Information Systems graduate Dorothy Wagner. Wagner had been the target of a bidding war between Andersen Consulting and IBM in San Jose, Calif. "The job offers in Silicon Valley were outstanding," she said.

Planning to take a job with IBM, Wagner had already called the movers when Bank of Hawaii offered her a job as an Oracle database administrator for their data warehouse technology division. Wagner said it was exactly what she wanted to do.

Although this job was not comparable in salary, Wagner said, "There's a lot more fulfillment from working in Hawaii because of the type of people you work with and the type of respect you get with your work."

"I knew that moving to the mainland means surrendering your lifestyle to your job," she said.

Other MIS graduates are eager to abandon the local lifestyle. Michelle Academia, who also earned a BBA in accounting, looked into the local job market but did not apply for any positions here. She has already accepted employment with IBM.

"To me moving to San Jose or the mainland in general fulfilled my sense of adventure. I wanted to do something different, see new places and was willing to risk all my securities, my family, staying at home," Academia said. "Not to mention the money and chances of advancement are better."

However, Academia also said that she wants to return when she is more financially secure and more marketable after getting an MBA from Stanford. "Most of the people I know moving to San Jose from Hawaii want to come back also," she said.

Some who move to the Mainland actually do come back, at least those who graduated from Hawaii high schools and attended colleges on the Mainland. Allen Uyeda, the president and CEO of First Insurance Co. of Hawaii, Ltd. said that last year his company hired two University of Washington graduates from Hawaii as underwriters. This year, two graduates from Hawaii Pacific University and one from UH became programmers for First Insurance.

"We're focusing on people from Hawaii -- who we feel have long-term potential with First Insurance," Uyeda said.

SERVCO Pacific, Inc., also actively recruits Hawaii college graduates through on-campus interviews, job fairs, class presentations and company tours. "We rarely recruit on the mainland except for specialized positions that we have difficulty filling locally," said Gene Murata from SERVCO's Human Resources.

"We have a lot of educated and talented people here in the islands," Murata said. "It comes down to looking at an individual applicant and what they can offer your company."

However, for many graduates, the real question is what the company can offer them. Lianne Maeda, the director of Career Services at HPU said that many job seekers wonder why they should work harder here when the same opportunities come much easier on the Mainland. Large corporations tell graduates that they can offer them a future if they leave Hawaii, Maeda said.

Many find the bait irresistible and Hawaii companies have trouble competing. "I couldn't talk any friends that I know in San Francisco into coming here because it would be a big cut in pay," Wagner said.

Also, while it seems that the demand for information technology graduates far exceeds the supply, not everyone is getting local offers. Mary Jacinto, an MIS graduate from UH found a job two weeks after getting her degree, but she said of her fellow graduates, "Most of them are going to the mainland to look for jobs there."

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
"Within six months of graduation, 95 percent of our students
have positions," says Marie Kumabe, right, director of internship
at the UH TIM program, shown counseling Lisa Iriarte.

Counselor’s tip:
Study, but get a job

By Dawn Sagario


EVERY graduate needs someone on their side like Marie Kumabe, the University of Hawai'i College of Travel Industry Management's director of internship and career development.

"Marie sets everything up," said Deborah Masumoto, a TIM spring graduate, with an emphasis in hotel management. "We don't have to go out and look for a job, they (the employers) come to us. I never had to go outside TIM to find a job."

Masumoto, who was recently promoted to assistant executive housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency Kauai, also received three other job offers from the Westin Maui, Maui Marriott and Sheraton Waikiki. All of these interviews were set up by the TIM school. She was notified of her hiring at the Hyatt right after graduation.

The TIM curriculum requires that students complete two, 400-hour internships, one of which must be done in the student's particular emphasis. Exposure in the work field through such internships has resulted in quick hires upon graduation, said Kumabe.

"Within six months of graduation, 95 percent of our students have positions," she said, "with 35 percent of them being local students."

Masumoto credits her past work experience as a major factor in finding employment. "They want the person who has the most experience for the job," she said. Masumoto has held managerial positions at two restaurants, as well having hotel experience in Beijing last summer.

Working at the restaurants gave her an advantage over others, Masumoto said. She also explains that it has been harder for her friends who haven't had an internship or work experience to find a job.

Jaime Lee, a recent graduate with an emphasis in transportation, attributes her job as a human resources assistant at Hawaiian Airlines to the internship she participated in with the company from September 1997 to May 1999.

"It's all because of the TIM internship," Lee said. "If I hadn't gotten the internship, I wouldn't have gotten the job. I consider myself lucky. If I didn't have the internship from before, I would probably be bumming around."

The TIM school actively seeks out companies and organizes interview sessions for students with company recruiters. This April, the school brought down 10 companies and students signed up for interview slots. Before deciding which companies to invite, Kumabe studies the makeup of the graduating class.

This year's class was dominated by students whose focus was in the hotel industry. Company recruiters included Hilton Hawaiian Village, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, Westin Maui, Hyatt Regency Waikiki and Hyatt International.

The economy has affected the types of jobs that are available, with cuts in management trainee programs. But according to Kumabe, students can still stay and find work in Hawaii. Those with enough qualifications have the opportunity of going straight into entry-level management positions. Other students take front-desk or food and beverage jobs.

Although the TIM school may be able to offer a variety of internships for their students, those other departments are not as lucky.

Debora Castanon, a graduate in Food Science and Human Nutrition, said that getting a job as a dietitian requires an internship. The UH can only offer a few of these internships, which means that students have to go to the mainland to gain relevant work experience.

She says that there are not many openings in Oahu hospitals for dietitians, but there is space on Maui and Kauai.

Castanon moved to Florida to continue her job search. "I would love to stay in Hawaii, but because of the financial situation, it's kind of impossible at this time," Castanon said.

Coming back to Hawaii is something she'd eventually like to do.

Having some work experience under his belt is also crucial for Tom Murray, a graduate from the UH nursing program.

"But it's kind of a catch-22," he said. "You can't get a job without experience, and you can't get experience without a job."

Early preparation and internships are important keys to finding work in the nursing field.

"Apply as early as possible, even before graduation, for nurse aide positions at places where you would like to work," Murray said.

"Internships give employers a sense of who you are and gives them a chance to see how you work. It shows that you're dependable and have some responsibility."

Employers like to see individuals that are well rounded with a broad base of experience, Murray said. Volunteer work and life experience are different facets that these interviewers are looking for.

Having experience as a licensed practical nurse does help a bit, but Murray said that it's still been difficult to find a job. He confesses that he hadn't been looking around much, focusing his energy on getting a position at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, and temporarily assisting with two research projects at the Queen's Medical Center as a data gatherer.

He received word last Thursday night that he's been hired as a nurses' aide at Kapiolani. He starts work next Tuesday.

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