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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, September 6, 2004

Trades applicants getting help with math exam

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Wannabe carpenters will get extra help this week preparing for a union math test that could lead to $33-an-hour jobs in a construction industry expected to help drive Hawai'i's expanding economy for years to come.

Recruitment closed for this year

The final round of trade union recruitment is finished for the year. But for more information on future refresher courses, call the individual labor unions or the Workforce Development Council at 586-8671 or the O'ahu Workforce Investment Board at 591-5555.

Hawai'i's construction industry needs more workers, but about 40 percent of applicants to the Islands' largest trade union, the carpenters', historically flunk the eighth-grade math portion of the entrance exam.

"The problem is that there aren't enough people and there aren't enough qualified people," said James Hardway, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

So about 200 candidates will take four-hour refresher courses at Honolulu Community College and Leeward Community College this week in basic math, which is expected to dramatically increase their chances to pass the required union test.

In a test program last spring, the carpenters' and plumbers' unions joined with officials from the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the city's O'ahu Workforce Investment Board and the University of Hawai'i to come up with a new approach to get more apprentice candidates ready to join their unions.

UH officials designed a four-hour refresher course that 221 carpenter candidates took. Out of the people who went through the course, 141 went on to take the carpenter's math exam and 125 passed — for an 89 percent success rate.

Another 189 carpenter candidates chose not to participate in the refresher course and took the math test directly. In that group, 111 passed and 78 failed — for a 41 percent failure rate.

Applicants for plumber jobs appear to have fared better on the tests. The plumbers had 80 candidates take the refresher course and 54 ended up passing the entrance test — for a 68 percent success rate. Another 53 people took the test directly and 79 percent of them passed.

The organizers of what's called the "pre-apprenticeship program" are trying to figure out why the outcome was so different for carpenters and plumbers. They're also wondering why no one took advantage of a more intense, 16-hour remedial program that UH officials designed for people who weren't ready for the four-hour refresher course.

They won't have much more data to work from because the carpenters will be the last union to recruit laborers for the year.

But the final round of testing of 400 carpenter candidates is expected to draw recent high school graduates.

"We'll be able to find out how prepared high school students are to take the eighth-grade math test," Hardway said.

The pilot program came from $100,000 that Gov. Linda Lingle provided through the Workforce Investment Act. But the program will end up costing only $25,000 — about $40 to $50 for every person who takes the refresher course.

"It looks like we'll actually save money," Hardway said.

Labor officials plan to release the results in October at a construction expo and hope that the construction industry, unions or maybe the candidates themselves come up with a way to pay for the program.

"Government obviously can't pay for it," Hardway said. "We paid for it to show that it works. And it does work."

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