The visitor industry remains one of Hawaii’s key economic engines, but what about the future? One need is to continue to develop a tourism workforce, and that was a goal of a program this month involving more than a thousand high school students on four islands.
LEI, in this case, is an acronym for Leadership, Exploration and Inspiration. The goals of a workforce development program run by a nonprofit called ClimbHI, founded in 2011 by Julie Morikawa. The program is sponsored by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and has grown to where this year’s program involved more than 1,000 high school students, 150 college students and 110 businesses statewide.
Morikawa’s inspiration for starting ClimbHI was her own experience when she was a young student of trying to choose a major in college with very little knowledge of what careers looked like in real life. Through site visits led by tourism executives, LEI participants get that exposure when at a time when it could really help them decide if the visitor industry is where they want to be.
Kauai High business education instructor Gregory Anderson says that a number of his high school’s graduates have since gone on to major in travel industry management at the University of Hawaii as a result of these inside looks at the range of careers available in the industry.
For the industry, such a program comes at a critical time. Workers aged 18 to 34 are what it needs most and that’s exactly the demographic that has been leaving Hawaii for the Mainland. Morikawa tells PBN that the next evolution of the LEI Program is an online Opportunity Portal, so that potential employers and employees can find each other more easily in the future.