Hopeful hunting

LIHUE — Brigg Perreira is no stranger to hustling to find work. But recently all that hustling just wasn’t paying off.

Perriera does contract work, such as landscaping and digging irrigation lines, on a project-by-project basis. When a project is finished, he looks for a new gig.

Perreira’s last job wrapped up in August. When it was over, he couldn’t find that next gig.

“If you don’t know the crew manager, you’re not going to get the job,” Perreira said. “It’s more like who you know than what you know.”

So on Wednesday, the 21-year-old Kalaheo resident attended his first job fair — and he landed a job. Perreira said Haleakala Solar hired him to install solar panels right on the spot.

“It reminded me of a high school job fair — only I actually got the job,” he said. “I’m pretty happy. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be steady work.”

More than 60 employers scouted for new hires Wednesday morning at the Kauai Job Fair, which drew more than 350 people looking for work to Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall. The event was a rare pairing of people eager for work and those eager to hire. For three hours, resume design and cover letter content took a backseat to firm handshakes and displays of honed skill sets.

The fair was sponsored by Kauai County in collaboration with the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and the Kauai Workforce Investment Act Board.

Kauai’s unemployment rate was 3.8 in August, down from 4.7 percent a year prior.

Some job seekers attended the fair out of curiosity to see what opportunities are out there. Others, like 50-year-old Divine Vigilia, had recently been laid off and needed new work.

Vigilia, an accountant, got a pink slip at the end of September. For her, job searching has been hectic — and tolling on car mileage.

“You’re just going in to different places and asking if there’s anything open,” Vigilia said. “When there’s an ad in the paper about a job, you call and it’s already been taken. With this (job fair), I don’t need to go driving around to each and every company. They’re all right here.”

At the fair, Vigilia found two accounting job openings. She picked up a pair of applications.

“Let’s hope this works,” she said.

Many employers arrived at the fair feeling just as hopeful. Jack In The Box was looking for overnight shift workers at $10 an hour. Pier 1 Imports was hunting for holiday help — business is booming at the home goods store in November and December.

One of the more unexpected job peddlers was Keoki’s Paradise. John Poehnelt, assistant general manager of the South Shore fish and steak kitchen, said there are so many restaurants in Poipu these days that it’s harder than ever to find and retain quality workers.

“Primarily what we’re looking for is to build our kitchen and really what we’re looking for is a gem,” Poehnelt said. We don’t really need front of the house staff, but if we find someone really good, we’re going to find a home for them.”

Over the last five years or so, the restaurant scene on the South Shore has been growing out of step with the labor pool, Poehnelt said. With so many employment options, it’s becoming easier and increasingly common for restaurant workers to leave a job for another one down the road.

“It used to be that people would fight for a server position,” Poehnelt said. “Now it’s hard to find the right people and to retain them. We’re working harder to find them. I haven’t necessarily found that gem yet today, but we have some good leads.”

Goodwill Hawaii’s director of human resources, Anthony Reyes, said the nonprofit has never before participated in a job fair on Kauai. Reyes said he flew over from Oahu because finding Kauai applicants with these specific skill sets via Craigslist, newspaper ads and employee references so far hasn’t been fruitful.

Goodwill’s Lihue branch is seeking an experienced job coach and an employment counselor with Micronesian language fluency.

“Someone who can speak Chuukese or Marshallese or Tagalog is hard to find,” Reyes said. “Also, I would say someone with relevant work experience is hard because it’s casework. But I’m seeing lots of eager faces, so hopefully we’ll find something.”

By 11 a.m., Reyes gleefully said he had identified about a dozen potential candidates for Goodwill’s two Lihue openings.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “What we really want are those people who really want to help people and make an impact.”

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Brittany Lyte, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441.

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