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The Working Class

Local companies and high school students participate in Hawaii's School-to-Work program.

Kaiulani de Silva says her company’s long-term commitment to the Hawaii School-to-Work program is not just about community service. It’s Hawaiian Electric Co. Inc.’s investment in early training for potential employees.

The nearly 7-year-old program, run by the state Department of Education, encourages students to prepare for life after high school by exploring their career and higher-education options before graduation.

Since 1995, numerous local businesses and district schools have formed partnerships to accomplish those goals through both school- and work-based initiatives.

“We are firmly committed to supporting a strong education system, and we know we get the results of that in hiring employees locally,” says de Silva, HECO’s director of education and consumer affairs. “Truly, our work force is educated by our public and private schools in Hawaii, and we have to invest our company in our community and schools.”

De Silva serves as chairwoman of the School-to-Work State Executive Council, which oversees the programs administered by smaller district councils. Schools collaborate with area businesses on student internships, job shadowing and mentoring.

Good Advice: Erik Kwon, at McKinley High School, works under the supervision of Kevin Isoda, advanced financial planner for American Express.

About 80 McKinley High School students participate in job-shadowing days, says Nora Whitford, coordinator for the school’s learning center and Academy of Finance.

“Our students go out and see how what they’re learning is actually being applied in the workplace,” Whitford says. “A lot of times, like in banks, they don’t know that there are things going on aside from just the teller they see.”

Since 1992, American Savings Bank has been one of the school’s most active partners. During the annual Groundhog Shadow Day, the bank hosts three McKinley students, giving them an introduction to its branch operations.

“It is important to reach our future leaders very early, so they at least learn how financial institutions work and what careers they’d like to pursue in money management,”says Thelma Yoshida, American Savings Bank human resources director.

Internship opportunities sponsored by local businesses also expose students to an array of career possibilities many hadn’t considered, Whitford says. Those experiences bring about visible changes in her students.

“When they return after internships, they’ve matured tremendously, because what they’re doing on the job is what some other workers are doing,” she says.

Glenn Fukuhara, who coordinates Bank of Hawaii’s partnership with Leeward schools, says the School-to-Work program hits close to home for him. The assistant vice president in the collections department is a product of the state’s public school system.

“When I got out of school in the ’70s, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what classes to take,” Fukuhara says. “I see myself [in the students] coming out of high school. They’re really not prepared, and with School-to-Work, they’ve worked on that through experiences in different industries.”

BOH sends guest speakers into the classrooms, offers site visits and job-shadowing and sometimes hosts career fairs for students at Pearl City, Kapolei, Campbell, Nanakuli and Waianae schools.

Kathy Kawaguchi at the DOE stresses that School-to-Work is not geared toward immediately ushering recent graduates into the state’s work force.

“They’re looking at career pathways and going on to higher education at a university or maybe in the community college system,” says Kawaguchi, assistant superintendent of curriculum development and student support.

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, providing states with grants to develop local programs.

The School-to-Work program is tailored for various age ranges in elementary, middle and high schools. One of HECO’s elementary- and middle-school projects is the “Invention Convention,” which requires children to identify everyday problems and create inventions that could potentially solve them.

The presence of School-to-Work at all grade levels eases students’ transition from one stage to the next, one of which could be higher education. High school students in the School-to-Work “Running Start” program attend classes at community colleges and Hawaii Pacific University, where they can earn up to one year of college credits.

But local students aren’t the only ones learning through School-to-Work. The DOE program teaches employees at participating businesses a great deal about their own jobs.

“It helps employees with their development and training; it helps them gain supervisory and presentation skills,” de Silva says. “To do some of these things, they need to have clarity about their jobs, and it creates a great synergy.”

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