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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, October 22, 2005

Full-employment blues

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Record numbers of companies, desperate for qualified help, are turning out for job fairs. Employers, said Job Quest fair executive director Beth Busch, "have to look a little harder, try a little more."


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Hawai'i's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose slightly in September to 2.7 percent, but the Islands had the lowest unemployment rate in the country for the seventh month in a row.

The U.S. unemployment rate for September climbed to 5.1 percent, up from 4.9 percent in August. But since March, Hawai'i's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has remained below 3 percent.

"It's great news to have so many new jobs created over the past couple of years," Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday. "It's exciting. Not just the number of jobs are up, but personal income is up, as well, and that's an important measurement because we don't want to just create any kind of a job, we want higher paying jobs."

For businesses and organizations, however, the positive employment figures are making it even harder to find good workers these days.

In September, a record 200 employers turned out for the Job Quest job fair at the Neal Blaisdell Center. It used to be the smallest and slowest of the three job fairs put on each year by Success Advertising.

Last week, Success Advertising already had 60 recruiters signed up for its Jan. 18 job fair. By yesterday, the number had jumped to 72.

"Employers are still having problems," said Beth Busch, the executive director of the Job Quest job fair. "They have to look a little harder, try a little more. People are already looking ahead to January and see no relief in sight. This is probably one of the earliest registrations we've ever had."

Laura Iaea, human resources director of the nonprofit Marimed Foundation, already has a recruiting spot at the Blaisdell.

Each month, Iaea needs to find about five new part-time counselors to fill in for full-time counselors working with at-risk youths 13 to 18 years old.

The standards are high for a part-time job that pays $8 to $10 an hour.

"We're looking for somebody who has patience, empathy, culturally based, with experience working with and around youth, preferably educated in the field of human services, psychology, sociology, family development," Iaea said.

The part-time counselors eventually could move into full-time positions that offer starting pay of $11.25 per hour, health insurance, fully paid life insurance, long-term disability and 25 days of vacation.

"We're getting lots of resumes, not necessarily with the qualifications that are needed to work with this population," Iaea said. "... If they had a job fair every month, I would be at it. It's worth my time to find one person who would do a good job for our clients."

Genalin Trejo, 37, recently received several promising leads and two solid job offers to work in hotel reservations in Waikiki.

But with gas prices, commute time from 'Ewa Beach to Waikiki and the cost of parking her car, Trejo was disappointed in the hourly pay of $14 an hour.

Trejo, who is from Hawai'i, worked for 12 years at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, where the pay was "much, much higher" and came with bonuses for every room she booked, in addition to free employee parking.

Trejo and her husband moved back home to raise the couple's 2-year-old son in Hawai'i. But based on her job prospects, Trejo and her husband have decided they would be better off financially running their own landscaping business.

"If I'm going to be working hard and spending all of my time commuting, I might as well work hard for myself," Trejo said.

As employers and employees continue to express their frustrations, state officials also worry about low-income residents who often need to work two or three jobs to stay afloat in Hawai'i's economy.

"How do we keep the economy going and ensure that those on the bottom of the economic ladder are better able to take advantage of the economy we have?" asked James Hardway, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Hardway is working on a potential program to provide laptop computers to 100 to 200 low-income women to improve their training and education whether for a high school general equivalent diploma or nursing credentials.

The idea is based on a New Jersey program that saw wages for low-income women rise 14 percent to 15 percent. At the same time, the women's children used the computers to become connected to the Internet, Hardway said.

Hardway hopes to get the program launched by the end of the year but still needs to figure out how to finance the estimated $2 million cost and deal with other issues such as high-speed Internet access.

"Just because we have low unemployment, there is still the need to upgrade the skills of those with lower-paying jobs so they can move up to higher-paying jobs," Hardway said. "We want to ensure that everyone gets to take advantage of our economic prosperity."

Advertiser staff writer Derrick DePledge contributed to this report.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.