State facing shortfall
of skilled employees

Organizers of a job summit
hope it will help spur demand
in the construction and
maritime industries

Hawaii's construction and maritime industries are set for unprecedented expansion. But the question yet to be answered is will the state have enough skilled workers ready to meet the demand?

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie says Hawaii needs to prepare for an influx of new jobs.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D, Honolulu); Bruce Coppa, director of The Pacific Resource Partnership; and Bennette Evangelista, a senior vice president at Central Pacific Bank, say they intend to find out when they hold a special "jobs summit" on Jan. 20 at Fort Shafter.

Abercrombie asked Coppa and Evangelista to help organize the jobs summit along with Bill Kaneko of the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs. Kaneko, whose group earlier this year completed some of the research that will be presented at the summit, will plan and organize logistics for the event, Abercrombie said.

The impetus for the summit came about, in part, because there has been so much speculation as to whether Hawaii would be ready for the influx of jobs and skills needed, said Abercrombie during a meeting with the Star-Bulletin editorial board yesterday.

"There has been all this talk about whether we could handle all the new work," Abercrombie said. "But we aren't going to be a cash cow for people on the outside coming in and cherry picking the jobs."

To that end, Hawaii needs to start getting prepared now, he said.

Recently passed legislation enables Norwegian Cruise Line to sail three cruise ships in Hawaii waters beginning the middle of next year. That will translate into an initial 2,000 jobs with a potential for more if the programs are successful, Abercrombie said.

In addition, the construction industry is already booming thanks to Hawaii's current real estate market. Coppa said it likely will break all previous records with the recent awarding of multibillion contracts to privatize Oahu's military housing. At its height in 1987, the construction industry generated around $4 billion in revenue that year and employed 37,000, he said.

"Now with private industry-fueled things and the addition of military contracts, we are in for a hell of a ride," Coppa said.

But, before the summit occurs, the group says they are hoping to collect more data and conduct in-depth surveys with employers, educators and other stakeholders to get a better handle on where Hawaii stands in relation to the skills that will be needed. They can then present the most accurate, up-to-date data, Evangelista said.

"So far, most data has been historical," she said. "We are hoping to do a survey getting details and feedback from the companies."

They also want to hear from as many different organizations in the community that may be affected in one way or another, she said.

With the help of researchers at the University of Hawaii, the information can be pulled together and an action plan developed, she said.

The group also hopes to tap into the experiences of other states that have experienced similar sudden booms, she said.

Coppa said he sees the survey as a good vehicle to get things started and get people to come and start talking.

Abercrombie said it is his hope that by this year's high school graduation, there will be a better understanding of how the future will look in terms of employment needs with planning well under way.

"By the next high school graduation this year, we want to have something in front of the public so kids can decide what they want to do -- whether to stay here for school or go to the mainland," he said.


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