Better economy, fewer unemployed

LIHUE — Kauai’s employment rate is rising and the outlook is strong for job seekers and the labor market.

According to the Hawaii State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, seasonally adjusted unemployment on the island was 3.6 percent in February – a decline of nearly a full point from the same month a year ago.

Economic forecasters credited the drop to the increased need of hospitality and construction workers, and the mood is optimistic. “More visitors breed more jobs,” said Scott Lever, staffing manager at Hawaii Employment.

In February, there were 9,500 jobs in the hospitality industry on Kauai. That represents an increase of 200 over the past year, according to the DLIR.

Due to construction needs on the island, workers are filling those jobs, resulting in a lower unemployment pool, Lever said.

Last month, there were 1,700 people employed in natural resources, mining and construction jobs, according to the DLIR. That represents 300 more than February 2015.

Low unemployment is in indicative of a strong economy and the news there is also good, Lever said.

“The island is as busy as it’s ever been,” he said. “But if the economy goes bad, unemployment will go up because people won’t come, and there won’t be a need for certain jobs, like housekeepers and rental cars.”

Hawaii Employment works to match job seekers with the right employers. The company, which has offices across the state, offers competitive pay and 401K retirement benefits to all employees.

On Kauai, Hawaii Employment places people mostly in general labor jobs, such as rental service agents for rental car businesses who clean the cars before they are rented out again.

Those jobs pay between $10 and $10.50 an hour, which Lever said is “the lowest wage I can reliably count on someone to work. Anything less and you don’t get employees who are committed to their job because they aren’t getting paid a living wage.”

A sector that could benefit from a larger employee pool, Lever said, is “semi-skilled” people in the customer service industry. “It’s hard to find people who can work as cashiers or at the front desk of a hotel, but we need those positions filled,” he said. “Semi-skilled” is defined as people who know how to run a cash register, work a gas pump and work well with customers.

“Everybody wants to find someone with those skills, but $8 to $9 doesn’t get it done,” Lever said. Customer service workers are valuable because they’re the ones who help turn a profit, he added.

On Friday, there were 310 full-time positions posted on the jobs section of Craigslist for Kauai. Positions ranged from housekeeping and cashiers to customer service representatives. There were 147 part-time positions posted. Those jobs ranged from sales associates to mental health therapists and relief crisis managers.

Despite new opportunities and a lower unemployment rate, getting a job on Kauai can be a struggle, Lever said.

“It’s a hard job market because the population is so small and the breadth of jobs is narrow,” he said.

Lower unemployment rates can be seen both on the state and national level as we;;. In February, Hawaii’s unemployment rate was 3.1 percent, a drop of 0.8 percent from last year. The last time the unemployment rate was 3.1 percent was November 2007, according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. saw a 0.6 percent decrease in unemployment last month, coming in at 5.2 percent.

Employers will be actively seeking qualified applicants at the Kauai Community Job Fair Tuesday in the OCET conference room at Kauai Community College from 9 a.m. to noon. More than 40 employers are expected to attend.

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