By Frank Cho
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawaiis economy has fueled a spurt in job growth not seen here since the states economic heydays of the 1980s, even as a dearth of entry-level positions in some of the hottest sectors is creating a bottleneck for new graduates and inexperienced workers.
Over the next year, experienced hospital nurses, information-technology professionals and special education teachers will be in the most demand, employment experts said.
"The only places right now where there is a proliferation of entry-level jobs are in the hotel and banking industries because of their high turnover. Otherwise, employers are demanding at least two years of experience before they hire," said Rey Prado, a recruiter with Altres Staffing, one of the states biggest employment companies.
Employers, cautious about how fast the states economy will grow this year, are resisting pressure to hire untrained or inexperienced workers, experts said. Instead, they have been focusing their limited resources on experienced applicants, which lowers training costs and can offer immediate improvements in productivity.
But employment experts say that may change later in the year as the labor market tightens even further and the pool of qualified applicants continues to shrink.
Job growth grew in 2000 at an estimated 2 percent, the fastest rate in several years and a contrast to the 0.5 percent rise in 1999 and zero growth in 1998. Economists predict Hawaiis job market should grow between 1.8 percent and 2.6 percent this year, despite concern over a slowdown in the Mainland economy and uneasiness over Asias continuing financial troubles.
"I am getting the feeling that the internal dynamic of Hawaiis improving economy will swamp the external slowdown in U.S. (gross domestic product)," said Paul Brewbaker, chief economist for Bank of Hawaii.
Nationwide, job compensation rose noticeably last year. Americans wages and benefits grew by 4.1 percent as employers scrambled to keep their workers in a tight job market. The increase was the largest since a 4.3 percent rise in 1991. The jump in wages and benefits outpaced the 3.4 percent rise nationally in consumer prices, a sign that workers enjoyed a net increase in income even as other prices went up.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in the West region, which includes Hawaii, wages and salaries increased by 4.6 percent during the last quarter of 2000. That pace is not expected to continue as the Mainland economy cools. But local economists here have predicted a 3 percent rise in personal income in Hawaii in 2001 and have noted that the strong demand for skilled workers in certain sectors could drive up salaries for employees in hard-to-fill jobs.
Through December, the states unemployment rate stood at 3.6 percent, compared with a national average of 3.7 percent. That was down significantly from 4.4 percent the state posted during the same month in 1999.
Much of that employment growth has come from a surging visitor industry and from seasonal hiring in the retail sector. But amid those numbers are signs of the growing demand for technology professionals.
"Employers are going to have to take the position of giving these graduates a chance. But right now there is still a reluctancy to hire them," said Dorris Hannaford, Hawaii-area manager for Manpower International Inc., an international staffing firm.
Manpower International publishes a quarterly survey of hiring trends about local businesses and uses that data to forecast job growth trends.
Hannaford said employees for call centers, where workers answer customer service calls from around the world, are in high demand among airlines, banks and insurance companies.
She estimated there are about 3,000 jobs in the industry and that figure is expected to expand by 25 percent by the end of this year. According to Manpower, the average salary for call center workers is about $10.23 a hour.
Off to the Mainland
Because of the lack of entry-level positions in some of Hawaiis hottest industries, many recent college graduates and inexperienced workers have been forced to consider moving to the Mainland to break into those industries.
"That is where our success has been (in placing graduates)," said Steve Short, director of career services for Heald College in Honolulu. Short said demand for entry-level electrical and computer technicians on the Mainland is outstripping the supply of candidates there, forcing some of the industrys biggest names to screen Hawaii colleges for prospects.
"Intel came here last September looking to hire 40 people, they went home with only 30 because we couldnt fill all their positions," Short said.
Many of those graduates are hoping to gain needed experience and return later to Hawaii in mid-level positions where there are more opportunities, Short said.
Experts said the problem with local high-tech companies that are looking to hire dozens of workers this year is that many are still too young and small to develop their own pipeline of talent.
"Its hard for them to take new people in and spend the time to train them because they have to focus their limited resources on a proven worker," Short said.
That is not stopping so-called "old economy" companies from expanding their staffs in 2001.
A survey of employers by Career Kokua, a career information service at the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, found that while there is expected to be an oversupply of entry-level nurses, registered nurses with a couple of years of hospital experience will be in demand this year.
"Every decade there is a nursing shortage, and we are getting requests to fill positions at nearly every facility," Prado said.
Nurses are commanding hourly wages ranging from the mid-$20s to more than $35, depending on their specialties. Emergency room, operating room and nurses experienced in telemetry are in the highest demand by hospitals, Prado said.
Dramatic growth in the cruise ship industry is also helping to fuel a rise in the number of jobs in the service sector.
Late last year, American Classic Voyages added a second cruise ship to the Hawaii market, and Norwegian Cruise Line expects to bring its own ship to the islands in December .
Naomi Harada, chief of the research and statistics office at the state Labor Department, said 2001 should be one of the best hiring years in a decade.
The Career Kokua survey, which measures the outlook for hiring over the next few months, indicates that more jobs will be available across nearly all sectors over the next year.
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