Hawaii’s visitor industry hopes to bolster workforce by recruiting teen students early
The idea is to catch the students before they are already considering other career paths and postsecondary educational programs.
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Hawaii’s visitor industry is looking for a few good kids to become the state’s next top tourism workers and, hopefully, leaders.
Leadership, Exploration, Inspiration, which is part of the ClimbHI program, wants to step up its game by reaching out to even younger students across Hawaii for potential careers in the state’s largest industry: travel and tourism. Despite Hawaii’s tourism dependency, preliminary surveys show that many students don’t see a future for themselves in the state’s visitor industry.
Each spring ClimbHI’s
LEI events introduces about 1,000 junior and senior high school students to visitor
industry careers. On Thursday the program piloted a career development assembly for freshmen, connecting 400 Roosevelt High School students with 10 businesses and three post-secondary
The idea is to catch the students before they are
already considering other career paths and postsecondary educational programs.
The event, which looked more like a rock concert than a traditional assembly, was timed to ensure travel and tourism would be top
of mind a couple of weeks from now when students have the chance to enroll in one of six career and technical education (CTE) pathways offered by the state Department of Education, where students can earn dual college credits in dozens of programs.
ClimbHI President and CEO Julie Morikawa said she started the nonprofit in 2012 to inspire students to finish high school and proceed to postsecondary education or successful employment.
“The visitor industry opened up new worlds for me,” said Morikawa, who went to Cornell University, which led to a successful career in tech and travel. “As a local student, I never would have dreamed this was possible.”
Earlier this year Morikawa took the program online. Next she would like to get a freshman school assembly in every Hawaii public school.
“This was a pilot to test proof of concept for the
Hawaii Tourism Authority, which gave us the funding for one assembly,” Morikawa said. “It’s really important to catch students early, when they are making critical decisions about their future.”
DOE numbers show that overall CTE enrollment
numbers are highest in the hospitality and tourism concentration. However, the results vary across the schools.
Shanet Yang, a 17-year-old student in Roosevelt’s CTE program, said the assembly was needed because Roosevelt’s CTE enrollment numbers for travel and tourism are low.
“We did a pre-survey, and many students didn’t know what hospitality was,” Yang said. “That’s shocking when it’s such a big part of Hawaii and there’s lots to offer.”
Lori Shimomura-Sakamoto, who coordinates
Roosevelt’s CTE hospitality program, said this year’s program enrollment was thin, but with the help of programs like LEI, she’s
hoping to grow the program to 120 students.
“I think they loved the assembly. It should help spark additional interest,” Shimomura-Sakamoto said.
Part of the reason that ClimbHI been able to offer more to Hawaii students is that the nonprofit has gotten increased support for its LEI program from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. New opportunities also are coming by way of the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association and a host of Hawaii travel and tourism businesses — all of which are aware that historically low levels of unemployment have led to a tight labor market that could stymie plans for continued visitor industry growth.
Caroline Anderson, HTA director of community enrichment, said the agency has put more emphasis on workforce development than ever before. She said HTA has increased its contribution to ClimbHI and LEI to $104,000 for fiscal year 2020.
ClimbHI and LEI also align with the new Ho‘oilina Scholarships, a $500,000 endowment launched with the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, Anderson said. And, by year’s end HTA plans to issue a request for proposals to find a contractor to do a study on the visitor industry’s workforce development needs.
“There’s a realization
that tourism will always be our No. 1 industry and the sector for the foreseeable
future that provides the most jobs,” said HLTA
President and CEO Mufi Hannemann. “If we want to fill them, we have to start early. Unemployment is
low and the industry is growing.”