LIHUE — State unemployment rates have reached their lowest numbers on record — and while that’s good, it can also be a problem.
“Many businesses on Kauai are having great difficulty finding and retaining qualified employees as a result of the low unemployment rate,” said Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce.
Kauai’s jobless rate was only 1.8 percent for October, a decrease from 2.3 percent since last month and 3.2 percent from October 2016, according to the Hawaii State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
“Many small businesses report that they are unable to move forward with plans to expand because they are unable to staff-up adequately,” Perriello said.
Recent online jobs listings for Kauai include positions for airport security officers, cashiers, secretaries, receptionists and personal assistants.
According to Scott Lever, Kauai staffing manager at HiEmployment, employers are seeking to fill positions for drivers, service agents, office administration, warehouses, landscaping, construction and especially general laborers.
“As a company that is always trying to hire workers in all industries, I can tell you that it is more difficult right now than it has been in the four years I have been in my position,” Lever said. “Basically, anyone who wants to have a job and can actually keep a job, has a job, oftentimes two jobs. For those who don’t have a job right now, there are a variety of reasons they are not employed.”
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa is one company looking to hire a number of restaurant jobs as well as spa positions. They are not adding new positions but are replacing employees that have left, said Diann Hartman, director of marketing communications at the resort.
“We don’t have any difficulty filling part- and full-time positions,” Hartman said. “It’s a little more challenging always with casual positions, because generally that just means they have another job. They’re looking for extra work, so their schedules might conflict.”
“The unemployment rate is always really quite low on Kauai, so we haven’t seen a significant difference,” she added. “It’s a great place to work. I think that’s why we generally don’t have trouble filling most of our positions.”
Like other large businesses, the hotel attends job fairs and participates in career days at schools to educate about work opportunities that are available on island.
“Right now we are still looking for workers and probably always will, being that we have a high demand in our work force,” said Shandell Lau, Kauai staffing supervisor for HiEmployment. “We offer an incentive to our employees for the referrals they bring in.”
“Another great benefit that we offer is flex scheduling to work with someone’s schedule, whether they want to be part time, only work evenings, or full time,” she said.
Sheraton Kauai is currently fully staffed and not looking to hire new employees, said Chip Bahouth, general manager.
“We have, at the hotel, put together plans relative to wage rates and benefit packages that make us highly competitive with all areas of the market in our industry, as well as other industries,” Bahouth said. “If you want to get good people, you have to pay for them, and we’ve recognized that for some time. We offer a full medical, full dental package with pension benefits in order to retain talent and get talent. We have found that very beneficial in hanging on and not having to go out and fight in the market to find people.”
Some businesses are also creating bonuses for new employees and seeking creative ways to market job positions.
“We utilize The Garden Island/Advertiser/Monster.com, Indeed.com, CraigsList, CareerBuilder, job fairs and banners placed around the community for attracting potential workers. And we pay a referral bonus to our current employees for bringing new workers to us,” Lever said. “I know the car rental companies at Lihue Airport are paying a $4,000 hiring bonus to new employees.”
A majority of the available jobs on island are for entry-level positions, and Hawaii’s minimum wage is set to increase to $10.10 per hour on Jan. 1.
“This is a workers market,” Perriello said. “Many employees will jump ship quickly for even modestly higher wages and better benefits.”