6,000 compete for 175 jobs
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
Up to 6,000 job seekers crowded onto the Honolulu Community College campus yesterday morning for a chance at 175 apprentice and engineering positions available at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
The annual open-air shipyard job fair came on the heels of the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobless figures showing the state's unemployment rate remained at 6.9 percent — its highest in more than 30 years.
Among the fairgoers who were worried about those statistics was Gerard Richards, 45, a technician for a telecommunication company. That's because he's soon to join the ranks of the unemployed.
"It looks like perhaps I will be laid off," said Richards, a former submariner who hoped that might give him an edge in getting a shipyard job. "Looks like maybe in September. So, yeah, I need a job. I'm pretty optimistic. I think. There sure is a good turnout for 200 jobs. So, I don't know."
Others, like Paul Sliwowski of Waipahu, had come to hedge their bets.
"This is my Plan B," said Sliwowski, 35, who recently got a degree in computer programming from the University of Hawai'i.
"Plan A is the military. I just heard about this fair three days ago. Found out from a friend who gave me a flier. I figured, what have I got to lose? I've got as good a chance as anyone. I'm just considering all my options."
Before last year, the annual Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Job Fair had been held at the Marine Education Training Center at Sand Island, where attendance typically ranged between 2,000 and 3,000.
Following the economic downturn, the fair was relocated to Honolulu Community College to accommodate throngs that swelled to more than twice that number.
"The primary reason for the change was the parking situation at Sand Island," said Freeman Correa Jr., shipyard superintendent. "There was just not enough parking to handle three or four thousand-plus people."
Yesterday's attendance was down from the 8,200 people who swarmed to last year's shipyard jobs fair. Correa said the lower numbers could be the result of last year's turnout.
"Those people who tested last year and passed, they won't have to take the test again," he said. "They don't have to come again. They just have to reapply."
The shipyard apprenticeships are four-year, work-study programs, said Steven Watanabe, shipyard apprentice program administrator. Trainees are paid while they earn an associate's degree from HCC at the same time they're learning a trade on the job.
Starting pay is about $20 an hour. That increases to just under $30 an hour for apprentice graduates.
Yesterday's job fair was strictly informational. Those wishing to apply for apprenticeships must do so online (see box).
In addition, Watanabe said, the shipyard expects to fill 75 engineering positions with pay ranging from $45,000 to $68,000 a year, depending on the applicant's qualifications.
Watanabe said this year organizers included federal agency hiring booths in addition to the shipyard opportunities.
"We've included NAVFAC (Naval Facilities Engineering Command), the federal fire department and the federal police department. What we're trying to do is be a little more inclusive to give people out there looking for a job one central place to come to."
Tina Marie Acevedo, 23, a shipyard heavy mobile equipment mechanic, is proof that it is possible to beat the odds.
"This is what I always wanted to do," said Acevedo, who showed up last year figuring she didn't have a prayer.
"I thought there's no way I'm going to pass that test — I've been out of high school for five years. But, I passed, and I couldn't believe it."
This year, the former cement worker and forklift operator was working the other side of the job fair booth, passing out information brochures, offering encouragement and speaking passionately about the joys of being a career heavy-equipment mechanic.
"I will miss the cement," she said. "But I won't miss it that much."