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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hawaii employers fret over aging workforce

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer


The report is online at www.census.gov

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As Hawai'i's population ages, so does its workforce, and there is a growing concern among employers here about what to do as these employees begin to retire en masse.

Statewide, 15.9 percent of workers were 55 and older, while 3.6 percent were 65 and older, according to a report released yesterday by the Census Bureau, based on 2004 numbers. The figures in the "Geographic Distribution and Characteristics of Older Workers in Hawai'i" are lower than national averages, but they do represent a continued "graying" of the state's population.

The state's hotel and food service industries employed the greatest number of older workers in 2004, the study showed. About 15 percent of the workers 55 and older were in these two sectors, the report said.

"Where is the next generation of workforce going to come from? is one of the biggest questions and issues that needs to be resolved," said Murray Towill, president of the Hawai'i Hotel and Lodging Association.

The Census Bureau is projecting that the Islands' population of residents 65 and older will by 2030 be double the number in 2000. The report did not provide a projection on what the percentage of the Hawai'i workforce 65 and older will be in 2030, but as the population of older residents grows, so will the number of older workers.

Cade Watanabe, spokesman for UNITE HERE Local 5, which represents about 12,000 unionized hotel workers, said a majority of its members are between 40 and 55. He said many workers have been with their respective hotels for decades.


Towill said while some people may work past the traditional retirement age, eventually employers will have to find replacements.

"At the end of the day, it's finding the replacements that has economic implications for all industries, not just ours and not just in Hawai'i," he said.

Towill said many hotels have already anticipated the loss of workers and are implementing programs to attract people. These include educating younger employees so they can be the next generation of leaders, and also offering incentives to employees who bring in new workers.

Longtime Hilton Hawaiian Village worker Gloria Bautista is among the group of workers who will have to decide soon whether to retire or continue working. Bautista, 59, is a telephone operator and has been with the hotel for 38 years.

She said she'd like to retire when she reaches 62, but knows it'll be difficult to do so.

"It's only a dream," she said. "It's expensive to live here. Everything is so high," Bautista said.

She said she also may put off retiring because she enjoys her work and it keeps her active.

"If you stop working, it's like you're stopping your brain," she said.


A spokesman with AARP's Hawai'i chapter said there's nothing wrong with continuing to work beyond the traditional retirement age.

Bruce Bottorff said a survey done in 2006 showed 30 percent of the chapter's 155,000 members had full- or part-time jobs, while 13 percent were self-employed. He said many have to continue working for economic reasons, but many do so because they want to.

With a very tight labor market, Bottorff said, employers should take advantage of their experienced older workers and encourage them to stay on longer.

"It's getting more difficult to find qualified applicants. We want to encourage people in hiring positions to look at the people with the greatest job experience, and they happen to be in most cases older workers," Bottorff said.

At Hawaiian Electric Co., officials have had programs in place for several years to ensure steady employment levels, said spokesman Darren Pai. HECO employs about 1,500 people.

"We do an inventory of critical skills with the company and look for people who are reaching the point where they may be eligible for retirement," Pai said. "We try to identify what skills these people have, and what kind of skills would need to be replaced."


Pai said HECO has an internship program that allows "promising candidates" to work part time while continuing to go to school. He said there are internal programs to "cross train" employees for management positions.

The graying worker population isn't expected to affect just the private sector. At the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, it is anticipated that about 40 percent of the faculty will be eligible to retire two years from now.

UH spokesman Gregg Takayama said that some faculty members will reach retirement age, while others are awaiting an 11 percent pay raise that will take effect next July, the final year of a six-year contract. The higher pay will boost the retirement benefits of the faculty members.

Takayama said no one knows how many will retire, but he said the university has to prepare for the worst. Among the improvements planned to attract new faculty members is an extensive repair and maintenance project at the campus, better faculty housing and a program that would find academic jobs for spouses of those being recruited by the school.

"I don't think there will be a sudden flood of people (retiring), but it is probably something to be thinking about, which we are," Takayama said. "We need to start getting our house in order in terms of facilities and upkeep of the campus because we want to make it as attractive a place for potential recruits to come here."

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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