Nobody should take too much comfort in any measure of Hawaii’s economic recovery, based on the most recent unemployment rate for August, 12.5%, a figure about to update with September data. And University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization estimates that 70% of all businesses have been forced to make reductions.
Further, the job-loss wreckage from the coronavirus pandemic has not entirely played out, with many small businesses unsure how long they can hold out, given the overhead of labor and rent and the uncertainty about the reboot of a largely tourism-based economy.
That’s why it’s critical that Hawaii’s unemployed be shown pathways toward jobs that, in the long term, will leave them less vulnerable to whatever calamities may follow COVID-19. Experts assure us that this is not the last pandemic that will afflict the globe, to name just one possible threat of the future.
These pathways could emerge for about 2,000 enrollees in a new job-retraining program unveiled this week by the UH Community Colleges. The participants need to have lost employment due to the pandemic, and the classes are free.
It’s a much-needed initiative, underwritten with $3 million in CARES Act funds, part of the City and County of Honolulu share of the federal pandemic relief program. Without a doubt, this is a program that should be mirrored in the state’s three other counties as well.
The classes will be offered through December, which is when all the CARES money must be spent. Oahu residents should not delay in signing up online (oahubacktowork.com). Classes start Monday.
Already, according to the city, more than 1,000 people signed up within the first day after the launch, so there’s no time to waste.
The site lists some 70 courses, with at least 120 sections, arrayed across nine basic categories: agriculture and horticulture, business and professional studies, computers and technology, health care and caregiver services, hospitality, industry and trades, language and communication, sustainable development, and transportation.
The classes run the gamut from greenhouse technologies to photovoltaic design and installation; there are also classes in hospitality for those who may want to hone their skills for when hiring there ramps up again.
But there are areas of particular growth potential, said Hilton Raethel, and health care is one of those. Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said certified nursing assistants are in demand, citing 120 positions already open. Other promising job types include phlebotomists (who conduct blood draws) and pharmacy technicians, he said.
Cybersecurity and construction trades are also areas needing trainees, said Erika Lacro, UH vice president for community colleges. There are links to open jobs on the website, she said.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said that if the 2,000 job-seekers take all the current spots, the city could find “a couple more million dollars of CARES funds” to keep it going.
“It’s that important,” Caldwell added. “Decisions made for this program could take people in directions they never imagined, not just for this year but for the rest of their lives.”
Most analyses of the Hawaii economy describe the tourism sector as employing, at a minimum, one-fifth of the workforce. And many businesses get part of their revenue indirectly from tourism as well.
That is not going to change anytime soon. People do need options, though, and many of them should take advantage of this opportunity to find an alternative. Their own livelihoods, and Hawaii’s sustainability, depend on it.