The State of Work in Hawai’i: Ready for anything

A conversation with David Ige, governor of Hawai'i

In this episode of the Work in Progress podcast, Governor David Ige joins me to discuss The State of Work in the state of Hawai’i and how the “ready for anything” “Aloha spirit” is helping Hawai’i recover from the COVID-19 unemployment crisis.

At the end of 2019, the state recorded its seventh record year of tourist visits to the islands and the unemployment rate was just over 2%. Then the pandemic hit.

“Clearly the most difficult decision I had to make was the decision to order a mandatory quarantine for all incoming travelers to the state,” recalls Governor Ige.

“We were closing hotels and closing businesses through that first six weeks in the pandemic. We were asking visitors not to come to the islands, to postpone trips and vacations, because we wanted to ensure that we could keep our community healthy and safe.”

Essentially, tourism-dependent Hawai’i went from one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country to one of the highest—more than 22%—in about six weeks. Governor Ige and his administration started to look for for opportunities to get Hawai’i residents back into the workforce and they began to tap into the digital transformation that was accelerating during the pandemic.

“The whole transformation to a digital economy—the infusion of technology into virtually every single business and organization in the community—had to occur in order for any of those organizations to survive. At the same time that many businesses were shut down and laying people off, there were businesses that were thriving and booming and unable to hire the people that they needed to be successful.”

“They work very hard in the hospitality industry, but for those who were interested…we wanted to really give them the opportunity to support expansion of our economy,” the Governor tells me in the podcast.

The state’s workforce development team got to work. “We clearly wanted to look for opportunities for upskilling and retraining. We worked with our community colleges and our universities and private sector providers to really make training available to those who may have been impacted in the visitor industry.”

An example of a successful program is Remote Ready Hawai’i.

“As you know, virtually every organization transitioned to telework in some way, shape, or form and we were working with those who were unemployed here to identify telework opportunities for Amazon or Google, or a wide range of companies that were looking for telework. (We) really focused on intensive training for these individuals, looking at the digital skills gap, connecting them with online instruction and programs that would allow them to qualify for these telework opportunities and get them back employed.”

The unemployment rate in Hawai’i is now around 8%, not where it was before the pandemic, but definitely on the road to recovery. Governor Ige credits the state’s rebound to its willingness to diversify its economy and its “ready for anything” attitude.

“What makes Hawaii a very special place is our Aloha spirit and our willingness to understand that we are a community and that we’re stronger together than apart, and that everyone is willing to help each other.

“We really worked to build the mindset within state government to be creative and innovative, to not stop with what we normally would do in the context of state government. As we explored and identified resources in our community, and as we identified the gaps between the skills that unemployed workers had and what they needed, the model was really be ready for anything.”

That “Aloha spirit” and the embrace of innovation has led Hawai’i to be chosen as one of the inaugural cohort of 10 state grantees in the Workforce Innovation Network (WIN), a collaboration for the National Governors Association and Cognizant Foundation. Each state receives a grant to “improve employment outcomes in response to the economic impacts of COVID-19, connecting job seekers to training, education, job opportunities and essential support services,” according to WIN.

Read more: Workforce Innovation Network

The Rest of the Interview

There is so much more in this 30-minute podcast. We spend considerable time discussing  the bright future for green jobs in Hawai’i. There are companies doing research in battery technology. And did you know that the state has the highest penetration of solar rooftops in the country?

“Every rooftop being a power generator on our grid creates really special challenges for our utilities, and it also creates research jobs, consulting jobs to really understand what we want is clean, renewable energy that is just as safe and reliable as the fossil fuel infrastructure.”

You can listen to my conversation with Governor David Ige here, or you can download the Work in Progress podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Aloha.

Download the transcript for this podcast here.

Episode 192: Governor David Ige, Hawai’i
Host and Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, editor-in-chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch, Melissa Panzer
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

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