Wise guys — and gals, too

Charly Andrade knows how it feels to be without a job.

“I couldn’t find a job for two years,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

After she retired from working in the mayor’s office, Andrade needed extra income. She also wanted to do something to keep her mind sharp.

“Having a job allows me to be 69 years old, and still growing,” she said.

So Andrade turned to WorkWise Kauai, a Department of Labor and Industrial Relations organization that helps the unemployed find jobs.

Through the Senior Community Service Employment Program, or SCSEP, which is funded by WorkWise Kauai, Andrade found jobs at the courthouse and at a preschool. Today, she works as a receptionist at the WorkWise Office in Lihue.

“Any assistance people need in looking for a job, I get them started, until one of the employment counselors can take over,” she said.

There are four employment counselors at WorkWise Kauai who meet with people to discuss their options. Whether it be working directly with ex-convicts, finding adequate work for the senior population, or teaching people how to write a resume, the counselors make sure the needs of each individual are met.

“I find that I really enjoy helping people,” said Susan Fujii, employment counselor. “It’s very rewarding because each person is so different, so you have to assess the situation and do your best to help them.”

Fujii, who has worked with WorkWise Kauai for five years, does a little bit of everything: from helping people register with Hire Net Hawaii and screening potential candidates for Work Opportunity Tax Credit benefits to teaching classes for people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

One person can have up to 10 resumes on the Hire Net Hawaii website, Fujii said.

“We want them to create an individual resume for every job,” she said.

Hire Net Hawaii keeps a database of open positions on the island. It also allows people to take a self-assessment test, so they know what jobs are best them.

People who file for unemployment are required to register on Hire Net Hawaii, and have to have active resumes posted, Fujii added.

As of Tuesday, there were 244 jobs posted on Hire Net Hawaii.

In addition to access to databases, WorkWise Kauai also provides a number of programs, funded by federal, state and county monies, to help people find work.

Hank Defalvo, a Princeville resident, says in-house workshops like resume writing and interview skills have been an invaluable resource.

“I started using WorkWise Kauai three years ago,” he said. “They have great classes, and have done everything for me, from teaching me how to write a resume to how to use the computer to search for jobs.”

Defalvo, who has a degree in international relations, hasn’t found a job through WorkWise Kauai, but it has led to interviews.

“I’ve turned down positions because I didn’t think they were right for me,” he said. “I eventually want to work in Social Security.”

Last week, when Defalvo had a video interview with Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, he turned to WorkWise Kauai for help.

“I’m not tech savvy, so they set up the cameras and other equipment for me,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Senior services

One of the programs offered through WorkWise Kauai is SCSEP, which is geared toward people 55 years old and up. The goal is to find employment for seniors in a government or nonprofit industry to help them develop a skill set, said David Longmore.

While popular placements include housekeeping and garden programs, seniors in the program can be placed in anything, he said.

“It depends on what they’re looking for,” he said.

Program participants are paid minimum wage and work up to 19 hours a week.

Since 2015, there have been about four job placements as a result of the program.

Longmore, who has been with WorkWise Kauai since 2000, said the most rewarding part about working with seniors is watching them feeling productive.

“They’re doing things; they like being of value,” he said.

But for Andrade, age is just a number when it comes to being in the workforce.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, you still have to create something for yourself,” she said.

Second-chance services

WorkWise Kauai also makes opportunities for people just getting out of jail.

Araceli Rapozo, an employment counselor at WorkWise Kauai, works with people coming out of Kauai Community Correctional Center, the Hawaii Paroling Authority and the Kauai Intake Service Center.

“My job is to find jobs for them, so they can re-integrate themselves back into the community,” she said. “They don’t necessarily have the best background, but want to become contributing members of the society.”

David Mainaaquo is one former inmate helped by WorkWise.

“It’s unbelievable what WorkWise has done for me,” he said,

Mainaaquo, who served a 10-year prison sentence, said he got laid off from the job the prison gave him.

“So they referred me to WorkWise. I met with Araceli (Rapozo), and she showed me how to write resumes. I was in her office for three hours, applying for jobs.”

Within a matter of days, Mainaaquo found a job. Recently, after being laid off from a job with a flooring company, he turned to WorkWise.

“We filled out an application, and I got a call from a construction company that day,” he said. “The man asked me when I could start, and I told him, ‘Now.’ He didn’t care about my past; he cared about my future.”

He’s been working with WorkWise Kauai for about a year.

“How much WorkWise has helped me, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Mainaaquo, a Kekaha resident, is still an employee with Daniel’s Construction. He also works part-time at Assembler’s Inc. and works other part-time jobs.

The programs, which are part of the Department of Public Safety Employment Program, have been a successful tool for getting people back into the community, Rapozo, who has been with WorkWise Kauai since 2014.

“The referrals come from the Department of Public Safety, and I meet people wherever they’re at — whether in the jail or at the office,” she said.

Popular positions include jobs in construction and gas stations, as well as apprenticeships in hair salons, she said.

In February, 31 people from KCCC, HPA and KISC, were referred to WorkWise Kauai, according to a monthly activity report.

Of that number, eight participants took assessments on Hire Net Hawaii, and one made contacts with a potential employer. Additionally, 19 participants received case management and four had successful housing referrals, according to the report.

As part of the second- chance services, WorkWise Kauai has teamed up with the Wilcox Thrift Store to make sure people have clothes to go to an interview, Rapozo said.

What people do after they leave WorkWise is important, Mainaaquo said.

“They can help you, but are you going to follow up with it?” he said. “They’ll help you as much as you ask for it, but you have to follow up and send out resumes.”

It’s important to Mainaaquo that he doesn’t make the same mistake he did 1o years ago.

“This is a whole new world: being clean and sober, and a contributing member of society,” he said.

Dislocated worker programs

Not all unemployment programs are geared to a specific demographic or socioeconomic needs.

Programs like the Workforce Innovative Opportunity Act provide on-the-job training, work experience and training with Kauai Community College’s Office of Continuing Education.

“The intent of on-the-job training is to get people out of unemployment and to get them hired,” said Adele Manera, employment counselor.

On-the-job training and work experience are six-month programs that allow workers to get back on their feet. Employers are reimbursed through the on-the-job program, Manera said.

KCC training is open to people who want to get specific certifications, like forklift operator, she said.

The one-day classes are paid for by WorkWise Kauai, said Manera, who has been at the organization for about five years.

Another program is the Volunteer Internship Program, which is an unpaid internship that gives people who are chronically unemployed a chance to build their resume, said Eric Nordmeier, branch manager.

“The intent isn’t to hire; it’s to get them skills,” Manera said.

The organization hopes to place at least 10 people in the VIP program.

The most rewarding part of WorkWise Kauai is seeing people reach their goals, she added.

On Kauai, unemployment on Kauai is down 0.8 percent from last year, according to February statistics from the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

“Employers are looking for people,” Nordmeier said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if people want a job, they can get it.”

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