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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hiring hunt is on at Blaisdell job fair

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

People looking for work at the Job Quest job fair at the Neal Blaisdell Center had their choice of a record number of recruiters looking for workers in Hawai'i's continuing tight job market.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Elizabeth Perri of Kane'ohe fills out a job application for Hawaiian Airlines. The 26-year-old, who has a master's degree in education from Brooklyn College, says she prefers a school counseling job with the state Department of Education, but she needs a job now.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Guy Elderts II grabs an application for part-time work from a Longs Drugs booth manned by Kirk Tyau, pharmacy area supervisor. Elderts is already working full time and wants to supplement his income.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The state's largest job fair saw a record number of recruiters yesterday 197 including 20 who have never had to search for employees at the Job Quest job fair before.

In a sign of Hawai'i's continuing tight job market, name-brand companies and organizations such as Longs Drug Stores, Japan Airlines and TheBus made their first appearance at the job fair.

"We never recruited," said Randy Suen, human resources director for Oahu Transit Services Inc., which operates TheBus. "We never had to. People were always standing in line for jobs. Now we have to go and look for them."

Each of the 20 first-time recruiters at the Neal Blaisdell Center had individual reasons driving their recruitment efforts. For TheBus, it was the need to replace a lot of retiring drivers; for Costco, it was staffing new or expanding stores.

But the overarching reason remains a statewide, seasonally adjusted unemployment rate that has hovered around 3 percent for more than two years and stood at 3 percent in July, the latest figure available.

"We're still feeling the bite," said Tim Casey, human resources manager for Longs Hawai'i. "It's still hard. I wouldn't say it's let up yet."

Casey listed the dozens of jobs Longs needs to fill such as cashiers and clerks as Kirk Tyau, Longs pharmacy area supervisor, stood behind Casey in the recruiting booth nodding his head and chanting "anything, anything."

To fill all of the openings for Longs' 22 O'ahu and nine Neighbor Island stores, "We want to toss as wide a blanket as we can," Casey said.

Thousands of vacancies yesterday were aimed at entry-level workers in the $10-per-hour salary range, but even those jobs often included full medical, dental and vision benefits plus company-matched 401(k) funds.

Not all the openings were for $10-an-hour jobs.

"Sure, there were lots of entry-level jobs," Beth Busch, Job Quest's executive director, said at the end of the job fair. "But there were plenty of mid-level management jobs, too, in areas like hospitals and banking. This time, we also saw lots of travel and airline" openings.

At least 31 people were hired on the spot by various companies in special job interview rooms. "And I'm sure many, many more got hired today," Busch said.

Many of the 2,900 job seekers already have jobs and were curious to see if they could find better pay, better benefits or better opportunities. Several potential candidates did not want to be identified out of fear of jeopardizing their current jobs.

PRESSING NEEDS

Others clearly need to find something soon.

Rex Akutagawa, 44, of Hawai'i Kai, was recently laid off from his accounting job. His wife also just received a layoff notice from her clerical-secretarial position.

Akutagawa has been responding to middle-management and accounting job postings but still showed up at the Blaisdell yesterday in a neatly pressed white shirt and tie.

"There are a lot of different jobs," Akutagawa said, "but so far nothing quite fits."

Several other job candidates recently arrived in the Islands and found plenty of vacancies at the job fair, although not necessarily in their desired fields.

Elizabeth Perri, 26, of Kane'ohe, left New York last month with a master's degree in education from Brooklyn College and is trying to get hired as a school counselor with the state Department of Education.

In the meantime, she needs a job. And Perri wasn't particularly picky yesterday.

"Anything with benefits," she said while filling out job applications.

Even though her degree is in education, she applied to Hawaiian Airlines yesterday to become a flight attendant.

MANAGEMENT VACANCIES

David Simpson, 38, moved back to Kailua last week after working in Las Vegas, where he managed apartment complexes.

"I just missed it so much and had to come back home," Simpson said. "Sure, financially you're better off in Vegas. But when it's 117 degrees, it doesn't cost out."

While there weren't nearly as many mid-level management positions as entry-level jobs at yesterday's job fair, Simpson still talked to roughly 10 companies about management vacancies in just his first hour at the Blaisdell.

One of the first recruiters Simpson met yesterday told him, " 'You can go home. You're going to be hired,' " Simpson said. "That was a good feeling."

Good feeling or not, Simpson kept looking.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.