Workers wanted: Kaua‘i businessowners say it’s hard to hire good workers

  • John Stein / Contributed photo

    The waterfalls are still flowing in this iconic shot of the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort & Spa in Po‘ipu.

LIHU‘E — Businesses have seen an uptick in sales as tourism picked up since Kaua‘i rejoined the Safe Travels program on April 5, but they are still having a hard time hiring new employees to fill their business needs. It’s a trend that is continuing nationwide.

“As soon as we get more customers, it’s really impossible to get staff because they all moved away for opportunity reasons,” Opakapaka Grill and Bar owner Gregg Fraser said.

“We offer them jobs back, but they are on unemployment. In this restaurant industry, if you want to work there are ways to get money without having a job.”

Fraser said there are a lot of challenges the food industry faces, and just when they overcome one, another one arises.

“It is very difficult right now. I think our government is making it harder on business to survive,” Fraser said. “In the midst of all of this, to be contemplating raising taxes, God forbid, I am all for everyone making more money, but you can’t force businesses to pay a $15 minimum wage.

“They get so much more in tips. Every time we turn around, there is one more thing that is hurting the industry.”

Other challenges that Fraser has are that some of his employees live far away from his restaurant and have to deal with the daily Hanalei access schedule.

“The other challenge is the timelines of the convoy,” Fraser said. “My chef lives in Wailua. He got to pick up supplies, get into the convoy every day in and out. That’s the real challenge. We battle mother nature, the government, and when the people are comfortable right now, they are not hungry for money.”

Currently, Fraser’s open positions include line cook, prep cook, dishwasher, utility kitchen, bartender and server.

“That’s why we have this challenge. We have an uptick in sales,” Fraser said.

“You need four or five more people. I put an advertisement and recruited someone from North Carolina. I am flying them in and paying for their airfare, and two months’ of accommodations, ‘cause I need the people. I am hoping I can find people on O‘ahu and the West Coast.”

Fraser also tried hiring bonuses, but said it didn’t work. He got many applications, but the applicants were not qualified for the jobs that he listed.

According to a survey done by the National Federation of Independent Business, in April’s wake, 44% of small-business owners (nationwide) still have job openings they could not fill.

This number was 22 points higher than the 48-year historical average, and two points higher than the 42% figure from March.

April is the third consecutive month with a record-high number of unfilled job openings among small businesses. The federal Jobs Report was released Thursday, and is a national sample not broken down by state.

The NFIB Research Foundation has collected Small Business Economic Trends data with quarterly surveys since 1974, and monthly surveys since 1986.

Owners cited higher unemployment benefits as one factor. And a study released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that a 10% increase in unemployment benefits during the pandemic led to a 3.6% drop in job applications.

Nationally, the employment report showed a 6.1% unemployment rate.

The Hawai‘i Employers Council recently released its own report, showing the results of a survey of 113 Hawai‘i employers covering more than 16 industries on their pay, benefits and workforce practices. Employers were asked what changes they planned to make to salary, bonuses, pay adjustments and defined-contribution plans.

Employers expressed cautious optimism that Hawai‘i’s economy is on the rebound. Some 14.7% reported plans for increases in pay/merit bonuses in 2021.

Additionally, while 50.2% said they would freeze salaries in 2020, only 19.3% reported such plans in 2021. An overwhelming majority (86.5%) reported not changing their defined-contribution plans, signaling that employers remain committed to employees’ long-term financial security.

“Hawai‘i’s employers are focused on moving forward with workforce-planning initiatives, balancing management costs with changing needs in their business sectors and taking significant steps to supporting employees as they recalibrate their business operations in a post-pandemic environment,” said Bonnie Pang, HEC president.

“Employers that prioritize their people and leverage high-quality data to make informed decisions on compensation and benefits will thrive as we exit this pandemic,” she said.

The survey asked employers how the pandemic has impacted their workforce, and found that of the 83 organizations with remote workers, less than half (44.6%) reported that less than 25% of their workforce worked/are working remotely.

“As Hawai‘i’s visitors return to stabilize our economy, jobs are returning, and good-paying ones,” said Melissa Pavlicek, NFIB’s Hawai‘i state director.

“Finding and keeping qualified employees has always been a concern for Hawai‘i small-business owners who don’t have access to the potential employees of other states.”

Meanwhile, the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort & Spa’s Director of Marketing and Communications Diann Hartman said they are slowly ramping up for more business since the county rejoined the Hawai‘i Safe Travels program on April 5.

“Summer is looking to be busier, so we have only begun to post jobs, so we really haven’t encountered many obstacles thus far in recruiting,” Hartman said.

“We have brought back many of our colleagues who were in a temporary layoff status and have more who are eager to return when our business needs increase. We’re hopeful that our reputation as a preferred place to work will be beneficial to help with staffing needs.” ••• Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or This story has been edited on May 10 at 8:12 a.m. for accuracy.

  1. YuCalJoe May 9, 2021 5:51 am Reply

    Isn’t socialism lite great? China Joe and crew will take this to the next level. Say goodbye to what you earned as it is taken away and given to non-earners. The new normal – abnormal.

  2. nobody May 9, 2021 6:57 am Reply

    It’s the overpaid, extended unemployment stupid. And no housing. And now the swapping out of our resident population with the malihini’s moving here. Do you think throttling back tourism will benefit the working class?

    1. Stop it May 9, 2021 10:01 pm Reply


      Stop it with the racist garbage. The point of this article is that there ARE PLENTY OF JOBS right now for people who want them. So any local folks who WANT to work CAN. Stop blaming others for anyone who chooses not to work. This local racist crap is no different than whites people on the mainland blaming non-whites for their predicament and whining about needing to make America great again. So stop it with the parallel, Make Hawaii great again nonsense

      1. Colin McCleod May 10, 2021 2:25 pm Reply

        You completely miss the point…have you not heard of, or comprehended the concept of INCENTIVE? What Nobody was saying is that with all the helicopter (“free”) money from fed debt funded spending they (politicians) have removed the incentive to work.
        It’s simple, simpleton, there is a disutility to labor…basic economics. So why work when the government will pay you to sit on your butt?
        Colin McCleod

      2. nobody May 11, 2021 7:26 am Reply

        It’s not irrational to not work if you’re getting paid more by government to do so. It’s economics, not racism. Who mentioned “locals”? Are you responding to the wrong letter?

  3. Ohana May 9, 2021 7:35 am Reply

    Let’s go to the real issue: HOUSING. Where will we live on $15/hr salary or less? Not a decent rental for under $2500 a month, and median house price is $1M. Low income housing with wait list is about half a million. Solutions need to be from the ground and up, literally.

  4. Mark May 9, 2021 7:58 am Reply

    No kidding. Wow who could have guessed? Get up take a shower, prepare for your day, get to work so you can feed and house and take care of your family and your grown up responsibilities, or get paid more to stay home drink beer and watch Gilligans Island. Hmmmmmmmm.

    1. X May 9, 2021 7:18 pm Reply

      Please, do show your math.

      1. nobody May 11, 2021 7:40 am Reply

        Collect Unemployment and you would have received an additional $600 a week, now just $300. If you worked 40 hours at $20 you would gross $800. UI would get you about 55% or $440. Add $600, $1,040. Add $300, $740. Those that earned more than $20 get a percentage less. If you had worked 20 hours a week at $15, instead of grossing $300 you would have grossed $765 at first and now $465. These are not bad people collecting this money, just rational ones who can do math. Then work for cash job and double dip. Good times!

  5. curious dog May 9, 2021 8:50 am Reply

    “…ways to work without having a job.”

    Really? Where’s the signup roster for this magical position?

    1. UNemployment May 9, 2021 3:34 pm Reply

      You can get 4-600 a week for signing on to a the HUI site. That’s more than most jobs pay per week. Especially if it’s slow and you depend on tips.

  6. mona May 9, 2021 11:56 am Reply

    Hyatt- how about providing a free or very low-cost summer program for your employees children ? You will get great and happy workers! Now that is taking care of your employees!!!

  7. MisterM May 9, 2021 5:14 pm Reply

    Simple solution. Pay a living wage and you’d have applicants coming out of your ears.

  8. Tweety Bird May 10, 2021 12:24 am Reply

    Sorry you can’t find enough plebes to fund your millionaire lifestyle.

  9. Wake up May 10, 2021 9:49 am Reply

    Yep keep extending the unemployment and see what happens. Wake up everyone it’s time to get back to work.

  10. alien May 10, 2021 10:38 am Reply

    So the hardest working people on the island with the lowest pay ,don’t want to give up their once in a lifetime paid vacation. I know it is hard to understand for the owners who keep these people on basically slave wages while they live in complete luxury, but just like your decision to pay people peanuts, the workers are making a decision to look out for themselves. Offer more $$ that actually makes it so people do not have two jobs, offer paid vacation, sick leave ect..

    1. nobody May 11, 2021 7:44 am Reply

      Rational people who can do math are taking this government paid vacation. Who’s to blame.

  11. Mike May 10, 2021 11:26 am Reply

    How quickly the tune changes. For months there’s been a massive outcry from workers for Kauai to rejoin Safe Travels so that they can get back to work after months of not being able to work, and how those of us who have held there jobs throughout the pandemic need to count our blessing and pay even more of our fair share.

    How quickly the tune changes. Now it’s the employers who are the bad guys because the jobs they offer are…guess what…low end jobs focused on a tourist economy.

    Sorry, folks, your bluff has been called. Hawaii has doubled down on its addiction to tourism, and now it’s time to get back to doing the jobs that only a month ago you were crying about not having.

  12. Andy May 10, 2021 12:59 pm Reply

    Gee, we fought tooth and nail against a $15/hr minimum wage and now there’s no one who will work for you. Who’da thought

  13. CommonSenseish May 10, 2021 4:26 pm Reply

    It’s IMPOSSIBLE to find good workers!! Everyone is all comfy collecting their unemployment. I don’t know where everyone is getting the idea that there are no jobs out here. There are a ton, ya’ll are just lazy.

  14. RGLadder37 May 10, 2021 9:34 pm Reply

    Replaceable workers. Hire one, fire the other. No big deal. It’s production you want, not loyalty. There is a difference.

  15. NEW BEGINING May 11, 2021 6:56 am Reply

    Before pandemic people looking for work where either over-qualified or not family and friends.

    Now you can’t find willing and qualified workers. At the proper wage. Yes, call yourself ‘woke’.
    Sit and talk to the last people that you ended your employment with. The free hand outs to the wrong status quo was not a good business model. Now give them a living wage, they will return the favor. But the new economy needs your millionaire joint partnership with the worker or be gone. You’ll get what you pay for.

    Nepotism was the trickle down failed approach.

  16. Kelly May 11, 2021 10:54 am Reply

    I don’t think there is a shortage of willing workers. I think there’s a shortage of employers willing to pay enough to live on. If you can’t afford to pay your employees a living wage, then you don’t have a viable business model. Back in the day, companies would actually train people on the job vs. expecting experienced workers to show up eager to work for them.

  17. onebrahda May 11, 2021 12:16 pm Reply

    Democrats created a nation too lazy to work. Why work when you can get free money.
    Stop giving the unemployed more money than the people that are working hard for theirs.
    Democrats agenda
    1) make “the people” dependent on the government
    2) Socialism is their plan; make “the people” dependent on the govt.
    3) get the USA deeper into debt.
    4) no can pay China back so going sell part of the USA to China to settle the debt. (Now China will own the USA)
    5) one world govt (and America will not be the head but be the tail)

  18. koloaman May 11, 2021 5:05 pm Reply

    It’s really pretty simple, it’s about personal honor. I’ve not worked in over a year, and yes I’ve gladly accepted the fed money to enjoy my life and paid taxes on it. Now my employer is reopening and I’m going back to work. If you are able to work, you should. The UE system is supposed to offer support to those who can’t find work, not those who don’t want to work. If a person is unemployed and not actively searching for work, they should not receive any UE benefits. Seems when I was filing I had to state if I was offered work and refused. People that are staying home to “milk” the system have a lack of personal honor. But then they have had a bad example of “personal honor” for the last 4 years, guess the apple don’t fall far from the tree.

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