By Andrew Gomes (Honolulu Star Advertiser, June 18, 2021)
More local high school students could end up helping rebuild Hawaii’s workforce from damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chamber of Commerce Hawaii is publicizing several efforts aimed at giving students skills to land jobs in different industries, following an informal May survey of business operators showing that 86% of respondents are struggling to hire employees as the state’s economy rebounds from a pandemic-induced recession.
Among the initiatives were more than 650 students at four Oahu high schools participating in virtual mock job interviews this past school year, which the chamber aims to increase this coming school year at Campbell, Kapolei, Pearl City and Waipahu high schools.
Another effort was a pilot project begun this year to engage students in engineering at Campbell, Castle and Waipahu school complexes by arranging for professionals in the industry to work with students and teachers on aspects of engineering, including advanced math, with a goal to prime students for future engineering careers.
A similar program exists for health care and is being updated. Lord Ryan Lizardo, the chamber’s program manager for workplace learning, said the programs aim to increase the local talent
pipeline. “It’s really exciting stuff,” he said.
The chamber also said multiple short-term training programs exist, including the Hana Careers Pathway program at University of Hawaii community colleges and the American Job Centers service coordinated by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Such programs involving educators, businesses and community organizations can help address workforce dislocations that the chamber said remain troublesome despite an improving local economy with more businesses reopening.
“Businesses are having a difficult time bringing employees back to work,” Sherry Menor-McNamara, the chamber’s CEO, said in a recent statement.
In a statewide survey last month, the chamber reported that 86% of about 360 members responding said they are struggling to fill job openings.
Based on state labor data, employers generally should be having an easier time than normal hiring workers given that Hawaii’s labor force of 649,750 people exceeded employment by 55,350 people, giving the state an 8.5% unemployment rate in April.
Eugene Tian, chief economist at the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said a roughly balanced level between supply and demand in Hawaii’s labor market is about 4% with around 20,000 unemployed.
“We still have excess (worker) supply,” he said.
However, Tian added that effects of the pandemic, including federal financial assistance payments and fears of contracting COVID-19, have motivated some people not to work despite job opportunities.