Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, December 7, 2003

Cruise line finds hiring slow going in Hawai'i

 •  Ripple effects from Norwegian cruises start to reach shore

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

Dining room hostess Anabelle Caranto prepares for arriving guests in the Grand Atrium of the Norwegian Star cruise ship.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Norwegian Cruise Line is finding it harder than expected to fill its first 1,000 jobs in Hawai'i, now that the state enjoys low unemployment and applicants weigh the unique conditions of taking a shipboard job.

Norwegian secured a federal exemption in February allowing it to put U.S. flags on foreign-built ships, and permitting those ships to skip a time-consuming foreign port stop to cruise within the Hawaiian Islands. The exemption came with the important requirement that the ships employ U.S. crews.

The prospect of new jobs in Hawai'i was one of the attractions of allowing the U.S.-flag cruise ships, but demand has been less than the company had hoped.

U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye had cut a deal to exempt Norwegian from the federal law and allow its two foreign-built ships to ply Hawaiian waters without stopping at a foreign port such as Fanning Island largely to generate jobs for Hawai'i residents. But Norwegian's problems attracting candidates as quickly as it needs may force the company to hire more workers from out of state.

Despite widespread concern about the availability of quality jobs in Hawai'i, interest could fall short of Norwegian's need to fill 3,000 openings eventually, presenting a considerable challenge as the state looks to develop a local cruise industry.

Most cruise lines are foreign-owned and employ largely non-U.S. shipboard workers.

The company started recruiting in May and has hired about 600 people, including about 450 from Hawai'i. The cruise line aims to employ 1,000 workers to crew its first U.S.-flag ship to start island tours in July. Another 1,000 will be needed to operate a second U.S.-flag ship in October. A third ship is scheduled to come online by 2007.

Norwegian has a limited time to set up its U.S.-flag operations, complete construction of the first ship and hire and train crewmembers by the first ship's launch.

"One of the areas where we are having a more difficult time in recruiting is in housekeeping, which is a little bit surprising here, where you have such a large hotel industry," said Robert Kritzman, senior vice president for NCL America, the entity set up to run the U.S. flag operations.

Norwegian has held job fairs across Hawai'i, and is also holding job fairs in Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Phoenix, Ariz.; San Diego and Anaheim, Calif., this month.

Jobless rate low

Norwegian hiring staff

What: Jobs include wait staff, housekeepers, room attendants, cooks and restaurant managers

Conditions: Drug testing and Coast Guard training provided for job candidates offered a job

Salaries: Not disclosed

Info: www.ncl.com. Click on Employment.
Dawnann Cabiles, a recent hire from Pearl City, said Norwegian is "giving us a lot of jobs," and "you gotta go in with an open mind."

However, the company may be able to hire people more easily outside Hawai'i, where the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent in October, below the national average of 5.6 percent.

"I think the market needs to decide" how many of the hires come from Hawai'i, said Jennifer Goto Sabas, Inouye's chief-of-staff. "As long as they continue to do their outreach, that's probably the best we can ask for."

Many job-seekers in Hawai'i may not have the right experience or interest in a job aboard a cruise ship. Norwegian's job openings include wait help, housekeepers, room attendants, cooks and restaurant managers, among others.

For job candidates offered a job, Norwegian pays the cost of drug testing and Coast Guard training, which can amount to a couple of hundred dollars. Norwegian is receiving federal money to help cover training costs.

Norwegian also is restricted from hiring many foreigners working in the United States with green cards. Only 25 percent of its U.S.-flag ship employees can be green-card holders, so it is limiting the numbers to avoid exceeding the cap.

Other factors that may be keeping some job seekers away are the workplace conditions.

Norwegian is telling prospective employees that all of its crew members work seven days a week, up to 10 hours a day. They are required to work onboard for three months, followed by a one-month vacation. All crewmembers must follow crew rules and regulations, and some must stay in designated ship areas when they're not working.

Some recent hires say they are training on short-term contracts and the company is still working out operational details and negotiations for representation by unions that include the Seafarers International Union. Until that is worked out, they won't know all the details of long-term pay and benefits.

Far from family

Norwegian job applicants may also be discouraged by the requirement that they live on the ship, sharing cabins with other employees. Being away from friends and family on the Islands also may be a deterrent. The company hopes to give employees one day to spend on their home island every week, with the rest of the time spent aboard the ship.

The jobs could prove more appealing to young people, those without family obligations who are interested in traveling and open to new experiences and challenges. Free room and board allows them to sock away some money, although Norwegian would not say how much workers will earn.

Norwegian is attempting to stir up interest with another recruitment push featuring advertisements promoting three months of paid vacation, which are split up during work time.

Reach Kelly Yamanouchi at 535-2470, or at kyamanouchi@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: Norwegian Cruise Line pays for drug testing and training costs for job candidates offered a job. A previous version of this story contained other information.