Employer Training Needs in Hawaii

Upjohn Institute Working Paper 92-15

Stephen A. Woodbury

November 1992

The Survey of Employer Training Needs in Hawaii was undertaken to gather information and data on the needs and preferences of employers in Hawaii regarding government assistance with training. The need for such information was created by passage of Act 68, Session Laws of Hawaii 1991, which created the Hawaii Employment and Training Fund "to assist employers and workers through innovative programs to include, but not be limited to, business-specific training, upgrade training, new occupational skills, management skills, and support services to improve the long-term employability of Hawaii's people."

The survey was mailed to a stratified random sample of 5,886 establishments in the State of Hawaii. The response rate was excellent: Of the 5,886 who received the survey, 1,650 (or 28 percent) returned usable responses that are included in the analysis.

A unique feature of the survey is that it obtained information on the training needs and deficiencies of seven separate occupational groups: Highly-skilled white-collar workers; sales and sales-related workers; administrative support (including clerical) workers; highly-skilled blue-collar workers; less-skilled blue-collar workers; service workers; and farming, forestry, and fishing workers.

The results of the survey present a clear justification for policy along the lines of the Hawaii Employment and Training Fund: For only two occupational groups did more than one-third of employers say that their most recently hired employees were well-prepared for work. This basic finding suggests strongly that the underlying problem facing the labor market of Hawaii can be characterized as a skill shortage.

Further, the results of the survey show that between 38 and 47 percent of employers (depending on occupational group) would like to see government provide some form of assistance with their formal training needs. In contrast, 15 to 23 percent of employers believe that government can do little to help with their formal training needs. In other words, about twice as many employers indicated that they would like to see government do something to assist with formal training as indicated that government could do little to help.

Findings from the survey point to the importance of implementing policies that would assist two occupational groups and their employers: service workers and highly-skilled blue-collar workers. Seventy percent of employers who had job vacancies for service workers reported that they have difficulty filling those vacancies. Also, service workers stand out as having more acute skill deficiencies than any other group of workers. Finally, service workers' skill deficiencies appear to be of a kind that can be best remedied through formal training, and a relatively high percentage of employers 28 percent would like to see the training costs of their service workers subsidized.

Regarding highly-skilled blue-collar workers, there is an acute labor shortage. The percentage of employers who indicate that they have difficulty filling vacancies for highly-skilled blue-collar workers is very high 68 percent and the percentage of these who report that lack of applicant training is a problem in filling skilled blue-collar vacancies 91 percent is far higher than for any other occupational group.

For both service and highly-skilled blue-collar workers, the findings point to a problem of skill shortage that could be addressed through appropriate employment and training policy. There is also a somewhat weaker case for directly Employment and Training Fund resources toward two other occupational groups: sales and less-skilled blue-collar workers.

The findings do not suggest a strong need to target certain counties or to vary policies from county to county. Neither do the findings suggest a strong case for targeting employers of a certain size, or for targeting employers in certain industries. Rather, the need is for targeting certain occupations in particular service and highly-skilled blue-collar occupations.

The last section of the report suggests a two-pronged approach to implementing the Employment and Training Fund. The first approach would provide general training to service workers (and possibly others in need of improved general skills) by improving the linkage between workers who need to upgrade their skills and programs that could help them. The Employment Service as a strategically located information-gathering and counseling organization is the logical organization around which to integrate and link existing education and training programs, and to implement improvements in existing programs.

The second approach would continue firm-specific training programs under the Aloha State Specialized Employment and Training Program (ASSET), and occupation-specific entry and upgrade training programs formerly funded by the High Demand Occupations Training program. The findings of the Survey of Employer Training Needs suggest gearing Hawaii's customized and occupation-specific training programs to the needs of service workers and highly-skilled blue-collar workers and their employers with the goal of alleviating skill shortages in these labor markets.

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