Honolulu job fair draws more employers preparing for upturn
• Photo gallery: Workforce Job Fair
By Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Staff Writer
The 5,000 job seekers attending yesterday's WorkForce Job Fair at the Blaisdell Center may not have realized it, but the state's job market is showing glimmers of improvement.
The event drew 135 employers, up about 20 percent from last year's event. And the number of people looking for work was down about 20 percent from last May's record turnout of 6,500 job seekers.
Employers like the Double Tree Alana Hotel and Hosoi Garden Mortuary were at the fair looking to get a jump on hiring in anticipation of a recovery in the economy this year. Nordstrom, which had never participated in a job fair here, had a team of sharply dressed recruiters handing out materials to prospective employees.
"If you want to know what the economic climate is, come down here, stick your finger in the air, and you will get a sense," said Beth Busch, executive director of the job fair. Busch is the president of Success Advertising, which puts on the WorkForce Job Fair in May and the JobQuest Job Fairs in January and September.
The growing number of employers and declining number of job seekers at yesterday's fair has not yet been reflected in official statistics. The state's unemployment rate was 6.9 percent in March, the third consecutive month at that rate and down only slightly from its three-decade high of 7.1 percent last spring.
While job growth will lag behind the economic recovery, it "should gradually turn positive as the year progresses," the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism said in a report yesterday.
Still, for those without jobs, the economic outlook provided little comfort.
"I'm applying at Macy's, Roberts Hawaii, Foodland, whoever is willing to hire me," said Leslie Miller, 40. "It's tough in this economy," said Miller, whose last job was as a stock clerk at the Hickam Air Force Base commissary.
Anna Yee, who retired as a caregiver four years ago, said she's returning to the workforce because of rising bills, including the maintenance fee for her condo.
"I have to come back to get extra funds," said Yee, who gave her age as "over 60."
"A lot of my friends have the same story," said Yee, who submitted job applications to two companies.
Hosoi Life Plan, the sales affiliate of Hosoi Garden Mortuary, was one of several employers attending the job fair for the first time.
"We want to be ready when the economy hits full speed. You don't want to be hiring people when you have a line of customers out the door," said Cindy Kawamura, a sales trainer for Hosoi Life Plan.
The company is recruiting for several sales positions, a receptionist and a funeral director, she said.
"We want to make sure we have all of our ducks in a row prior to the economy growing. This is the best time to hire, because we get to pick who we want to hire," Kawamura said. "This saves us one step because we already get an impression when they turn in the application. It gives us a chance to pre-screen people."
The ideal candidate would be caring, humble and know the true meaning of aloha, she said. "Either you have it or you don't. You can't teach it," she said.
The Double Tree Alana hotel was back at the job fair after sitting out last year.
"We didn't attend last year because people were coming to us," said Cindy Fujioka, head of human resources for the hotel.
"We're hoping that we'll find good people coming into the on-call positions, and as business picks up we'll already have them trained. When the full-time position opens up we can move them into it."
The hotel is looking to fill several positions, including an assistant front-office manager, event services administrative assistant, accounts payable clerk, and food and beverage server.
Nordstrom was hiring for 10 full- and part-time positions, said Mitzi Okumura, human resources manager for the high-end retailer.
"In the past, we've used the Internet and in-house referrals. We're being more adventurous in our recruiting," she said.
Local labor economist Lawrence "Bill" Boyd said the strategy of hiring temporary or on-call employees is typical early in an economic recovery, when employers are waiting for signs the expansion is on solid footing.
"It's kind of a tentative thing. As the economy picks up, they move to more permanent hiring," said Boyd, an economist at the Center for Labor Education & Research at the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu.
Boyd said that despite the improving job market, he wouldn't be surprised if the state unemployment rate edges up in the months ahead as more people who had given up their job searches begin looking again.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which calculates the unemployment rate, considers the labor force to include everybody who either has a job or is looking for one. Those who have given up their search, the so-called discouraged workers, don't count in the official unemployment rate. As they re-enter the labor force, they can cause the unemployment rate to rise, even as the number of hires is rising.