Question: What are the positions in top demand in Honolulu, and why are employers having trouble filling them?
Answer: Employers continue to have trouble filling highly specialized roles in Honolulu. The unemployment rate for Honolulu is relatively low at 5.7 percent, so there aren’t as many job candidates searching for work as there are in other markets. Also, the demand for certain specialized roles outpaces the supply.
There are several additional factors that play into the recruiting challenges, including employers who are seeking candidates with multiple skill sets. For example, they might seek an accounting professional with an IT background and strong communication skills. Also, online job postings are generating a lot of unqualified applicants, making it time-consuming for local businesses to find those who are truly qualified.
Some of the positions that are in greatest demand in Honolulu right now are financial analysts, senior accountants and controllers, who are in demand as companies look for ways to increase efficiencies and improve profit margins. We’re seeing increased demand for customer service representatives as organizations look to expand their service offerings. Paralegals and administrative assistants, particularly within the leisure and hospitality sector, are also in demand as tourism begins to grow.
We’re seeing a lot of demand in general for data warehousing and business intelligence professionals and mobile app developers. These professionals are important as businesses look to identify and act on trends, operate more efficiently and reach new audiences via smartphones and other mobile devices.
Q: What specific skill sets are employers looking for, and how can professionals acquire them?
A: Companies in Honolulu are looking for accounting and finance professionals who have IT (information technology) backgrounds combined with strong communication skills. They prefer candidates who are well-rounded and adaptable. International experience also is a plus, since there’s such a strong global influence in Honolulu.
As the economy improves, companies are seeking IT professionals who can use historical data to analyze the growth of their business and identify opportunities.
As the tourism industry continues to grow, companies seek administrative professionals who are bilingual in Chinese or Japanese and can interact with customers, clients and business partners who speak different languages.
Q: How do Hawaii job market trends compare with what we’re seeing nationally?
A: The unemployment rate in Honolulu is well below the national average, and it’s even lower for college-educated, highly skilled professionals. That’s resulted in a candidate shortage.
This is a good time for skilled professionals in search of new opportunities. Many companies are rehiring some of the people they laid off in the past and are focused on rebuilding their talent bench as they look to take advantage of emerging growth opportunities.
Q: Have you seen any change in pay packages or benefits recently? Has the tighter market meant employers are offering more to attract the right people? What do employees want most in a package besides high pay?
A: Companies are re-evaluating their benefits packages to make sure they’re as competitive as possible to avoid losing strong performers. Also, many candidates are receiving multiple offers and counteroffers. Companies are recognizing that they must make competitive job offers if they are going to attract top candidates.
Companies are offering more low-cost benefits to workers, such as flextime and telecommuting, which can help professionals balance work and family obligations, since commute traffic can be very congested. Also, 401(k) pay and retirement benefits are coming back as more companies add some benefits that may have been reduced during the recession.
Q: How many of the top positions (CEOs, CFOs, etc.) get filled by people from outside of Hawaii? What are the difficulties companies run into when bringing someone in from outside the state?
A: Many companies in Honolulu prefer to hire locally. The cost to bring over talent can be quite high, and those from outside of the area may not always stay for the long term. That being said, companies may be willing to bring in people from outside Hawaii for highly skilled positions.
We’re seeing a lot of churn in the market, as executive-level professionals seek out new opportunities. Companies increasingly are taking steps to retain staff at all levels, from entry-level professionals to executives.
Interviewed by David Butts, Star-Advertiser