U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie talked with Robert Kritzman, managing director for NCL America, at a jobs summit yesterday at Fort Shafter. Mending gaps in educational programs is seen as key to meeting the expected huge demand for workers in the future.

Jobs summit
tackles roadblocks

With the state facing a shortage of skilled employees needed for Hawaii's construction and maritime industries, a jobs summit held at Fort Shafter yesterday attempted to clarify the magnitude of the demand for workers with particular skills and determine how to cover shortfalls.

Organizers of the event surveyed employers, educators and stakeholders on their future needs to get a better handle on what should or could be done. It is still unclear how many jobs will be required and how many people must be trained, but gaps in educational programs and job training were identified as major stumbling blocks to success. For example, training programs need adequate funding to produce more graduates.

Those areas need to be a priority and must be fixed if Hawaii is to begin to meet the expected job demand, event participants said.

Meanwhile, employers who attended the event say they learned a lot.

"A lot of data was exchanged [yesterday] so it was a beginning step for building a strategy and an action plan," said Doris Hannaford, area manager for Manpower Inc.

Convened at the behest of U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the summit was organized by Bill Kaneko of Hawaii Institute of Public Affairs; Bennette Evagelista, vice president of Central Pacific Bank; and Bruce Coppa, director of the Pacific Resource Partnership.

The summit had a series of expert presentations on topics ranging from labor supply demand, the effect of worker shortages on wages, developing a trained workforce, gaps in existing educational programs and the need for an adequate supply of affordable housing.

With apprenticeships in certain skilled construction industry jobs, such as carpentry, taking as much as five years, it may not be realistic to think an adequate supply of such workers can be trained in time to meet the need, said Ernesto Lucas, associate professor of the Department of Economics at Hawaii Pacific University.

"If it takes five years to get a trained carpenter, you have to cast the net wider in the short run. But in the long run, you have to increase education," Lucas said.

The number of skilled people retiring over the next few years also needs to be considered, said Michael Rota, associate vice president for academic affairs at the University of Hawaii. Between 2000 and 2010, about 21,000 new workers will be needed to sustain the economy. More than half of those jobs will require some education and training beyond high school, he said.

State Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said the idea is to create high schools that target students' interests rather than try to provide everything for everyone. Smaller, more focused schools, targeted to specific areas, are needed to provide the necessary skills for students to transfer seamlessly to a community college or training program, she said.

To Jeff Bloom, president of the Computer Training Academy, real-world training should be considered a must for students. Businesses need to get involved in training programs for kids while they still in school, he said.

"There is a gap between young people coming out of school and entering into the workforce," Bloom said. "Business has to be actively engaged to provide context for kids to understand why we have to learn. If you bring in young people to work on a project, that adds context."

Burt Barnow, associate director for research at the Institute for Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University, talked about other states faced with similar situations.

Some, like Nevada, when faced with a surge in construction and the need for trained workers, let the free market take care of itself, letting wages rise to attract workers from elsewhere.

Other states, such as Massachusetts, were faced with a huge building and construction program, and established large training programs to make sure disadvantaged residents could participate. The right strategy for Hawaii will depend on how large job growth will be, how long the surge in jobs will last and whether jobs will be available for people who will be trained after all the projects are completed.

But even if the influx of work creates thousands of jobs, Hawaii's affordable housing shortage will need to be addressed, said Ted Liu, director of the state's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

In 2003, there was a shortage of just under 30,000 housing units in Hawaii, with the severest shortage in the rental market, especially for those with low incomes, he said. Research on the number of newspaper classified ads for rental units in 2003 paints a bleak picture, he said.

In the next three years, there is no projected increase in the production of rental units, and homeowners don't want to put their properties into the rental market, Liu said.

Hawaii needs to look at other island locales, such as Singapore, that have faced similar problems, Liu said. Hawaii also needs to re-examine land-use regulations, the permitting process and outdated zoning ordinances while encouraging military families to live on base. Tax laws encouraging the production of low-income housing also need to be re-examined.

"I believe the issue of the housing gap transcends any one issue we face. It impacts everything and the problem is getting more severe," Liu said.


E-mail to Business Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --