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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fair brims with entry-level jobs

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Shokudo Japanese Restaurant and Bar employees Chelsea Yagong, Mishean Munalem and Justin Mizufuka, front to rear, kept an eye out for prospective co-workers for the Ala Moana restaurant.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Marilyn Abalos carries her 11-month-old son, Kamakana Tisalona-Perez, while she fills out an employment application for P.F. Chang’s China Bistro at the WorkForce Job Fair at Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. Abalos is looking for any kind of work but hopes to find an office job.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Erin Sato, of Banana Republic, talks to a prospective employee at the WorkForce Job Fair.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Savannah Makaya, a 22-year-old Kapiolani Community College student from Kalihi, epitomized Hawai'i's job seeker-friendly economy at yesterday's WorkForce Job Fair as she looked for a better-paying job with more flexible hours.

Makaya's two-month-old, part-time cashier's position had ended up becoming rigid, with full-time hours that interfered with her computer science studies. So Makaya came to the Blaisdell Center yesterday and quickly landed a security job with The Wackenhut Corp — at a higher salary.

"They hired me on the spot," Makaya said, after getting a congratulatory hug from Mayor Mufi Hannemann. "I just feel awesome. If I can do it, anybody can."

The largest number of recruiters ever — 206 — turned out for the state's largest job fair of the year as Hawai'i continues to enjoy the lowest unemployment rate in the nation for 24 straight months.

Last year's WorkForce Job Fair drew 5,100 job seekers. A similar job fair at the Blaisdell in January saw 4,500 potential new employees.

So yesterday's turnout of 3,500 people looking for jobs was "in keeping with what our unemployment is," said Beth Busch, the job fair's executive director. "It says that lots of people already have jobs."

Many of the recruiters yesterday were hoping to fill entry-level, low-wage positions in fields such as tourism and retail that are scrambling for workers while Hawai'i's economy continues to hum, just as it enters the busy summer season.

"The unemployment numbers show there's definitely a strong demand for workers," Hannemann said as he toured the recruiting booths and talked to job seekers. "This is definitely fertile ground for our private sector partners."


Hannemann acknowledged that many of the openings remain in low-paying jobs but said, "It's all about getting your foot in the door. You've got to start somewhere, like I did. ... It's all about building up your resume. Many of these jobs are just a stepping stone to building your experience."

So future employees like Taichi Yasuhara, a 28-year-old marketing consultant, tried hard to stay optimistic yesterday as he searched for recruiters looking to hire marketing or public relations professionals like him.

After a few hours of looking, Yasuhara found some management openings in retail but nothing that excited him. "If you're entry-level, this is great," he said. "For me, it's luke-warm."

But Erin Sato, 24, of Kaimuki, got an audience with Debbie Hind, customer experience manager with Banana Republic, about Sato's potential future with the company as a graphic designer. They talked about visual merchandising in Banana Republic stores and Hind said Sato "definitely" got her attention.

"We talked about how she can take her skills and develop them in the company," Hind said.

Recruiters also said that entry-level workers who show personality and promise can move up quickly in Hawai'i's economy.

Alden Tottori, 23, started out as a server at Shokudo Japanese Restaurant and Bar on Kapiolani Boulevard three months ago and is now a server manager.

He's now heading to Beverly Hills to help manage the company's second restaurant, which is part of a planned expansion of 50 Mainland restaurants.


Yesterday, operations manager Sanson Eligio proudly pointed to Tottori as an example of how inexperienced employees can quickly get on a management track.

Eligio was looking to hire a minimum of eight cooks, two bartenders, three hosts/hostesses and six servers yesterday.

"If the person has a passion, we can develop them as far as they want to go," Eligio said.

The number of recruiters was pushed toward record levels by the help of 15 first-timers, such as Honolulu Ford that needs technicians and lot attendants that the company normally finds through newspaper ads and word of mouth, said Aaron Smith, a floor manager who was staffing the company's recruitment booth yesterday.

"It's definitely getting more challenging finding quality employees," Smith said. "We're trying to be a little more creative."

While Smith sat at a relatively spartan table, other recruiters such as first-time WorkForce Job Fair recruiter P.F. Chang's China Bistro served up it's top-selling pupu of cashew, stir-fry lettuce wraps to anyone who filled out a job application.

Marilyn Abalos, carrying her 11-month-old son, Kamakana Tisalona-Perez, turned in a P.F. Chang's application and said she would consider "anything."

P.F. Chang's recruiters talked about perks such as a 401(k) program that the company will match after one year, free set meals per shift and a 50 percent discount on items that employees order from the menu.

"The good thing for us is we don't require experience," said Bob Crowley, P.F. Chang's director of Hawai'i operations. "We hire personalities."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.