Free job training provides for a pandemic pivot
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I'll cut to the chase: if you live in Honolulu and if your livelihood was adversely impacted by COVID-19 (including whether you lost hours or lost your job entirely), you are eligible for free job training from UH campuses that could open the door to new and better opportunities.
Workforce development is an important pillar of community resiliency and economic diversification. And while the chaos of the pandemic has obviously created a massive wave of uncertainty, it also creates opportunities.
Yes, hitting the reset button is scary. But right now, you'd hardly be alone.
Staggering job losses
Setting aside for the moment that many Hawaii residents need to hold down several jobs to make ends meet, Hawaii used to enjoy one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. In October 2018 it was 2.3 percent, and got as low as 2.1 percent in March 2020, just as COVID-19 began ravaging global communities.
Two months later, more than one out of five Hawaii residents (21.9 percent) were unemployed.
The bad news, of course, is that the COVID-19 Delta variant has turned out to pose an even greater threat in 2021 than we saw last year. The latest forecast out of UHERO, the economic research organization at UH, opens with an optimistic beat... but goes on to say:
The labor market faces pandemic-induced weakness and structural challenges... While employment gains will resume, job numbers will not match pre-pandemic levels for several years. The end of federal pandemic support will significantly reduce income for many families. The future path for the economy remains very uncertain, with risks tilted to the downside.
The good news? Hawaii seems to be bouncing back, the state reporting a 7.3 percent unemployment rate in July, marking the sixth consecutive month of improving job numbers.
In fact, local businesses have struggled to fill job openings. And while things are tough for employers looking for entry-level, service industry workers, it's pretty dire for those looking for specific skills.
Oahu occupational objectives
To improve the alignment between job seekers and the skills that employers are hiring for, the University of Hawaii is offering free job training through its community colleges via the Oahu Back to Work program.
The program features a variety of courses in business and technology, healthcare, human services, and skilled trades like carpentry, HVAC maintenance, and security guard services.
Oahu Back to Work is funded by federal CARES Act coronavirus relief funds, and is just one of dozens of programs within the City & County of Honolulu benefitting from the more than $387 million it received to date.
Several business tech courses are starting this month. This week, even:
Oct. 4-Nov. 5: Introduction to Web Design
Oct. 4-Nov. 5: Graphic Design for Business
Oct. 4-Oct. 27: Amazon Web Services Cloud Foundations
Oct. 5-Oct. 14: Introduction to Microsoft 365
Oct. 5-Nov. 3: Linux+
Oct. 5-Dec. 16: Creating E-Commerce Websites
Oct. 18-Nov. 19: Data Analysis Basics
Oct. 25-Dec. 12: Computer MOS Certification
Oct. 26-Dec. 9: Certified Cisco Networking Associate 3
Nov. 3-Dec. 3: Social Media and E-Commerce
Nov. 3-Dec. 30: Security+ Training and Certification Prep
Courses are being offered both in-person and online, and are being filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Each qualified resident can take one free job training course.
And one course may be enough.
A pandemic-made programmer
The Askew 'ohana.
The most compelling way to convey the potential value of this opportunity is to find success stories. And I was delighted to see that UH featured a friend and fellow techie in its Oahu Back to Work outreach.
Brandon Askew is a very young 50, a great dad, and a long-time entrepreneur and community advocate. I first met him and his wife, Poni, a decade ago, when they launched "Eat the Street." Their first event drew 1,000 people. The second, 3,000. Soon they were seeing 10,000 attendees, and the biggest challenge they often faced was finding a venue large enough to host their event.
They also opened "Makers and Tasters," a permanent food truck park in Kakaako, in 2015. They became a fixture and inspiration in the local startup scene.
Unfortunately, as you might expect, crowded food truck rallies vanished with the arrival of COVID-19. And with it, Brandon and Poni's family business. Brandon had already picked up other jobs to support his family, but even those were drying up.
Now that he was the very model of a newly skilled, newly employed programmer thanks to the Oahu Back to Work program, I seized the opportunity to catch up with Brandon to hear his story.
Q. How did you find out about the Oahu Back to Work program?
After losing my position as a Business Systems Analyst at the Hawaii Convention Center, I was fortunate to be offered a security guard position. While working as a security huard, I learned about the OBTW program on HPR. Minutes later I was on the website to learn more.
Q. Could you share how you were impacted by the pandemic?
Besides being downsized in my job, we also had to downsize our living arrangements. Also, because of the pandemic, we had to close our family business after operating it for 10 years.
Q. What programming/curriculum tracks did you review or consider?
That’s simple, technology and programming! I have been wanting to update my skills, and this was a great opportunity to take a class in Python that also included real world projects and data.
Q. How difficult or time consuming was the program? How much support did you receive?
It was a little touch and go at first. There was more interest in the class than there were spots, but I was fortunate enough to get a spot. While the class wasn’t difficult, it was a real college course at UH Maui. The instructor was very supportive in and out of class. I liked the online aspect of the class, and because of my second shift security schedule, it did not interfere with class times.
Q. What were some of the benefits of the course?
I was able to share the same online learning experience that my kids were also having. They were excited when I told them I was taking a class.
And I learned a new programming language which gives me new tools to solve the challenges that I now face every day at work.
Q. And that's a tech job?
Yes! When I learned of the position at HMSA and that it specifically calledout Python, I was excited because that is the course I took via the OBTW program. I shared during my interview the course I took, and I believe it helped me to get the position.
Q. And how are things going?
Good! I’m working! I have a job at a great local company.
While I miss the family business, I understand that when one door closes, another will open. I am looking forward to what’s behind door number...
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