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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, September 5, 2004

Market super for job seekers

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

"Help Wanted" signs are popping up at each of the nine Price Busters on O'ahu, but Dawn Hirano saved the biggest and most elaborate sign for the Price Busters store in Koko Marina Shopping Center.

She had to.

Price Busters at Koko Marina Shopping Center is competing for workers with Subway, Starbucks and Paradise Cafe.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Job fair

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sept. 21.

Where: Neal Blaisdell Center

Cost: General: $1;
Students: 50 cents.

Pre-register: www.successhi.com

For more information: Call 536-7222.Source: State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

Price Busters needs to hire 200 new employees and is competing against dozens of other Help Wanted signs across O'ahu. In Koko Marina Shopping Center, Price Busters faces hiring competition from several neighbors, including Starbucks Coffee, Subway Sandwiches and Salads, and Paradise Cafe, which have all hung their own Help Wanted signs.

"They're pretty much in every store," said Hirano, Price Busters human resources manager.

On the eve of Labor Day 2004, the wealth of Help Wanted signs represents a local barometer of Hawai'i's employee-friendly job market and the extra effort needed from businesses to attract good workers.

It's all a byproduct of an expanding Hawai'i economy, which for more than a year has seen job growth fueled by construction and a rebounding tourism market.

In July there were nearly 20,000 more people employed statewide than in July 2003. That helped reduce the number of unemployed people statewide by 8,650 in the past year — to 18,750 people in July.

Last week, Gov. Linda Lingle used a Republican National Convention audience to tell the nation about a Hawai'i unemployment rate of 3 percent in July that led the country.

It was the third straight month that Hawai'i had the best unemployment rate and followed 2003, when the Islands topped the country in job creation.

To stand out among all of the other businesses looking for workers, Hirano produced a near novella of almost 90 words for the 22-by-34-inch, Price Busters sign in Hawai'i Kai:

Salaries of up to $10 an hour, it says. Performance bonuses, medical and dental insurance, paid holidays, vacations, company retirement — with matching contributions — group life insurance, long-term-disability insurance, employee discounts and paid training.

In case candidates weren't impressed with the benefits, Hirano tossed in exclamation points to hammer home how much Price Busters wants new employees.

"This is definitely a job candidates' market," said Judy Bishop, general manager of CTA Staffing, which matches employers with employees. "If you're looking for a job, it's excellent."

The pool of O'ahu workers got even shallower in August when 4,500 people lined up for 1,300 new jobs at Wal-Mart and its sister retailer, Sam's Club, which are opening next month in the Ke'eaumoku superblock.

The end of summer traditionally represents a slow time for hiring in Hawai'i. But the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations predicts that Hawai'i's low unemployment rate will continue through the rest of the year, ending in an even bigger spike in job openings during the holidays.

"Things look excellent," said labor department spokesman James Hardway. "As the economy picks up, there's more money available and jobs get created."

Beth Busch, an organizer of the Job Quest job fair Sept. 21 at Neal Blaisdell Center, had expected perhaps 75 job recruiters to sign up for booths by now.

Six industries driving growth

From July 2003 to last July, six industries have driven job expansion in the Islands:

Accommodations and food services (hotel and restaurants): 3,250 new jobs, 3.7 percent growth.

Retail: 1,950 jobs, 3 percent growth.

Healthcare/social service: 1,950 jobs, 3.7 percent growth.

Transportation and warehouse: 1,450 new jobs, 6.1 percent growth.

Construction: 700 new jobs, 2.5 percent growth.

Information (includes film industry): 450 new jobs, 4.5 percent growth.

Source: State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

Instead, the job fair already has 90 recruiters and Busch wouldn't be surprised to see 100 — many of them first-timers or companies that haven't been recruiting for several years.

"If we'd had 75 employers, I would have thought that was rock 'n' roll in a 3 percent unemployment market," Busch said. "But 90? That's a good turnout. It's clear that more companies are looking to hire."

If the economy continues to favor job candidates, Bishop believes that businesses will have to do more to attract good workers, including increasing pay.

"Right now they're in the search process," Bishop said. "Then they'll say, 'Oooh. This is really getting bad. We're going to have to raise our salaries.' Then you're just stealing from one another and just increasing the cost of doing business in Hawai'i. You're not increasing the labor pool."

Every day, Bishop receives résumés from job candidates on the Mainland. But they're typically discouraged by salaries that don't match Hawai'i's rising housing prices and overall cost of living, she said.

So to produce more qualified workers from the Islands, Bishop believes government officials, unions, universities, high schools and businesses themselves have to do more to train people for Hawai'i's expanding economy.

"Employers need to mentor people and not just assume they'll get rid of them and hire somebody else," Bishop said. "It doesn't work that way in a tight labor market. As a community, it's all of our responsibility. We need to make sure that we have the employees, the candidates, the workforce to fill all of the positions or Hawai'i businesses will be unable to produce either the product or the service and they'll get criticism ... because of poor service."

Right now most of the job recruiters are looking for entry-level workers, Busch said.

And that's playing out in Julie Pritchett's home in Kaimuki.

Pritchett has been out of work for six months. She has been an office manager for a mortgage company, a bank operations supervisor and held several other bank-related jobs.

But Pritchett, 52, can't find an office job that comes close to matching her old salary of $2,500 per month. She has interviewed for several entry-level bank positions — and constantly been told that she's overqualified.

At the same time, her 17-year-old son, Jon Mizusawa, got hired for two jobs right after he graduated from Kalani High School last spring — one at Subway and another at Baskin-Robbins.

"He can get a job at the drop of a hat because he's applying for minimum-wage positions," Pritchett said. "He says, 'Mom, it's OK. You can work with me.' ... I may be overqualified, but I do have to eat. Eventually I'll find something."

Pier 1 Imports on Auahi Street has attracted lots of recent college graduates as well as older, more experienced candidates from its Help Wanted sign.

The sign is actually designed to draw applicants for Pier 1's new store at Pearl Highlands Center scheduled to open next month.

"We're getting lots of people," employee Brendan Buchwach said. "With this market, things look good: for job-seekers, progress, expansion, the economy."

Reach Dan Nakaso at 525-8085 or dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.