Annual job fair faces new challenges

Kaua‘i’s low unemployment rates have turned the fundamentals of human resources upside down, making events like Saturday’s Kauai Job Fair 2006 at Kukui Grove more important to prospective employers than employees.

“Six years ago, unemployment was at 6 percent, and we had 200 jobs in the system,” said Wayne Mikami, secretary for the Job Service Employer Committee.

In the job fair’s six years, unemployment rates have dwindled to a third of what they once were.

“Now we’re at 2.1 percent with 600 jobs in the system,” Mikami said. “Everybody’s struggling to find qualified job-seekers right now.”

The Kauai Workforce Investment Board and JSEC expect between 55 and 60 businesses and 400 and 500 perspective employees. In addition to booths for each business, there will be a bank of six computers to file online applications with businesses not in attendance, and at least counselors to help build resumes and write cover letters.

“We’re trying to create a vehicle to link the job-seeker with employers,” Mikamo said.

More and more, businesses looking to fill spots are realizing the importance of links to the community.

“It is vital since the economy is up and the job market (is) exceptionally tight,” said Alicia Fernando of Maui Divers Jewelry. “We also have a limited labor pool in the islands.”

“Recruiting is definitely vital,” said Tami Orozco, director of sales and marketing for Genki Sushi Hawaii. “Especially with the limited resources because of low population.”

Orozco said this will be Genki Sushi’s first time with the job fair, but other companies more familiar with the process expressed some frustration at recruiting from a small labor pool.

“I have been disappointed that more high-schoolers don’t come and check out the type of jobs that are available on the island,” said Liz Thompson of Kokua Business Service, a free temp agency that has participated in the job fair for at least three years. “There are some quality businesses represented, (and) it’s a good chance to ask questions, get information and plan for the future.”

Organizer Connie Clausen said the dates of the fair were changed from August to May to attract more high school kids either graduating or looking for summer jobs.

Because Kaua‘i is “heavy on the $7- to $10-an-hour-jobs range,” JSEC’s Mikami said, most companies looking to fill positions immediately will be seeking those looking to work in the service industry.

Most companies contacted by The Garden Island said they were looking for sales clerks, bussers, greeters, cashiers, stockers, security personnel and attendants, both full- and part-time.

Some employers, however, are offering much broader horizons.

“We are not only looking for people who are interested in Kaua‘i,” Maui Divers’ Fernando said. “We have locations on O‘ahu, Maui, the Big Island, Las Vegas, California, Florida, Guam and (on board) the NCL-Pride of Aloha.”

While some recruiters want to fill specific positions, others plan on using the job fair to generate interest and collect resumes.

“Our time spent at the job fair will be ‘meet and greet,’” said Princeville Resort’s director of human resources Deborah Baker.

With the tough market and Princeville’s low turnover, Baker said she takes every opportunity to connect with the public.

“We would like to fill positions once we return to the office,” she said.

“Ideally, we would like to have applicants stop by our booth to pick up an application and find them lasting positions within our stores,” said Foodland recruiter Kimi Wagner.

The fair runs from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Saturday, in the pavilion area of the Kukui Grove Mall, and is free to job-seekers. The $5,000 event is funded by the County Office of Economic Development.

• Ford Gunter, staff writer, may be reached at fgunter@kauaipubco.com, or 245-3681 (ext. 251).

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