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Internships jump-start construction careers for Hawaii students

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Thanks to a pre-apprentice program at Waipahu High School, Genesis Nakagawa now works as a carpenter apprentice at Hawaiian Dredging. Nakagawa sharpened his skills Wednesday at the Hawaii Carpenters and Drywall Training Fund Center in Kapolei.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Thanks to a pre-apprentice program at Waipahu High School, Genesis Nakagawa now works as a carpenter apprentice at Hawaiian Dredging. Nakagawa sharpened his skills Wednesday at the Hawaii Carpenters and Drywall Training Fund Center in Kapolei.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown off job prospects for many teenagers, but Hawaii’s construction industry is still buzzing along and seeking students for paid summer internships at job sites.

The Career Connections program in the building trades has mushroomed to 26 public high schools on six islands since it started at Kahuku, McKinley and Waianae in 2019. The Department of Education partnered with the Hawaii Carpenters Apprenticeship and Training Fund to create it.

Juniors and seniors who have completed certain courses in the construction curriculum at those 26 high schools are eligible to apply for seven-week summer internships paying $15 an hour — and the deadline is Friday.

“We love this program: It opens doors for the students,” said Brandy Yagi, assistant principal at Waipahu High, who oversees the school’s Academy of Industrial & Engineering and Technology. “Some students really want to go to that four-year university; others want to go straight into industry. This internship program is an awesome opportunity and option for them.”

Given its growth, the program is also signing up more employers through April to host students at their work sites. Contractors must be signatories to the union’s master contract.

Students spend a week at the Hawaii Carpenters and Drywall Training Fund Center in Kapolei, learning construction site safety and other basics, before heading to their job sites. There they shadow and learn from seasoned carpenters, drywallers and millwrights, who work with precision machinery.

Genesis Nakagawa, 18, graduated from Waipahu High in May and completed the summer internship with Hawaiian Dredging and Construction Co. last summer. He was hired right afterward as a carpenter’s apprentice, and is now making $20.20 an hour on a high-rise project, Ko‘ula at Ward Village.

“I like to work hands-on,” said Nakagawa, the first in his family to go into construction. “It’s hard work, heavy duty.”

The steady paycheck as well as his new skills have come in handy at home.

“Every six months we get one pay raise,” Nakagawa said. “I like to help my mom-them pay the bills. And I’m doing the flooring at home, remodeling the house.”

A journeyman carpenter, after four years as an apprentice, earns $50.50 an hour.

Edmund Aczon, executive director of the Carpenters Apprenticeship and Training Fund, sees the Career Connections internship program as a great way to recruit new talent into a thriving industry.

“The goal is to have these kids in high school learn about the trades and give them actual on-the-job experience,” he said. “By doing that, we are hoping that we are going to have a better retention rate for apprentices.”

Neri Blas, a supervisor at Hawaiian Dredging, praised Nakagawa’s work ethic and skills, and predicts a bright future for him in the industry.

“The kid works hard and catches on quickly,” Blas said. “His attendance is unreal.”

“I’ve been with Hawaiian Dredging for 30-some-odd years,” Blas said. “I’ve seen apprentices come and go within a day or two days — they just couldn’t handle it.”

“It’s not easy work,” he added. “The way we work with these kids, safety is first. And there is a demand for a lot of math.”

Along with Hawaiian Dredging, graduates of the program have gone on to jobs at companies such as Coastal Construction, BrandSafway Services, Group Builders Inc., and Nan Inc.

Sponsors of the program include the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters and Pacific Resources Partnership.

Interested students should contact their high school instructors immediately since the application deadline is Friday. They can also call 848-0794 or email hcatfhelpdesk@hicarpenterstraining.com.

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