Training the Workers of Tomorrow

Did you get all the way through high school and college without actually learning about a potential career and test driving it? Did your college courses have little connection with what you learned in high school? If you answered yes to both questions, you were not alone.

Hawaii public high schools are changing all that. Today, you can start learning about a field in high school and decide if it’s the right career for you. And what you learn in high school is being better coordinated with what’s taught at UH’s community colleges and universities, say UH and Department of Education officials.

To understand the possibilities and realities of workforce training, we’d like you to meet five young people who took different paths to different careers. But, in each case, that path started in high school.

• Stephanie Barayuga is a master’s degree student in molecular science conducting research and awaiting word on whether she is accepted to UH’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. We caught up with her at the medical school, where she was preparing an experiment to test a selenoprotein’s protective properties against methamphetamine.

While growing up in Kalihi, Barayuga thought of being a doctor. But she didn’t know for sure until she joined the Health Academy at Farrington High, where she took a class in anatomy and physiology, learned how to take vital signs and shadowed a physician.

Photo: David Croxford

“That’s important to learn in high school, because, when I went to college, I already knew the types of classes I needed to take. I was well aware of the work that I needed to put in.”

•  Aaron Araki works the overnight shift as an agriculture inspector with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. It’s his job to inspect arriving ships and aircraft to prevent invasive species and disease organisms from entering Hawaii – a field he first got interested in at Campbell High School’s Agriculture/Natural Resources Learning Center.

• At Child & Family Service, Ashley Yasuda is a program supervisor in charge of 200 adult offenders who have gone through the criminal justice system and been ordered to spend up to six months in a domestic violence intervention program. Yasuda has a master’s degree in social work and has already led several mental health programs. Her interest began in the Health Academy at Farrington High.

“The academy basically opened the door for me into this work,” says Yasuda from her office at Child and Family Service. “In high school you’re kind of clueless about the work world. A lot of times you’re choosing something for a career because you see someone else doing it or maybe there’s a lot of money in it. But for this, even just going to the hospital, or walking down to the morgue, these are things most students would never be able to experience. To be in high school and to be exposed to so much in the medical field, and how things are done, really helped me.”

• At Coastal Construction, Nate Porter is now a foreman who oversees others and makes sure construction jobs are done right. He is a 2006 graduate of Kapolei High School, where he was part of the school’s Construction Academy. After graduating, he became a carpenter and union member.

• At DuPont Pioneer, Ayja Nakasone spends her days in farmer’s gear – blue jeans, sturdy work shoes, work shirt and protective hat – as part of a team developing new strains of corn. Her interest in agricultural research began when she was a teenager at Campbell High before graduating in 2000.

These young people were encouraged to pursue their careers because of experiences they had in their high school academies or learning centers. They’re only five of the thousands of Hawaii high school students inspired by the Department of Education’s workforce training programs.

“The academies give you an opportunity to see what the field is like,” says Barayuga. “I think that’s where I really fell in love with going into medicine.”

Brian Ichida is a career and technical education resource teacher for Oahu’s Leeward District and a former Kapolei High School academy leader. He sees the high school vocational training programs as critical to meeting Hawaii’s future workforce needs.

“It’s very important to be able to articulate what we do in the classroom to employers’ needs to produce a workforce that can hit the ground running,” says Ichida. “What’s always in the forefront is the need for skilled workers. It’s very critical that we don’t shy away from that.”

The need for skilled workers is enormous: The latest state estimate is that there will be 29,880 job openings in the 12 months ending June 30, with similar numbers of openings in each year this decade.

Derek Chow is a leader in workforce training. He heads Campbell High School’s Agriculture/Natural Resources Learning Center, where about 150 students a year learn about everything from sustainable agriculture, to creating and maintaining greenhouses, to the intricacies of planting seasons. Since Chow officially launched the program in 1992, between 3,000 and 4,000 students have graduated from it.

“We’re contributing to the workforce big time when I think of all the areas students go into,” says Chow, who then lists a few of his graduates: Matthew Espiritu, who is now one of Alan Wong’s chefs; Abner Caranto, a manager at Costco who is about to raise orchids on family land in the Philippines; and Jason Itamoto, who specializes in mechanics.

“There’s a place for everyone,” Chow says.

Students Troy Cordeiro and Kaleo Nakamura, teacher Derek Chow, and graduates Aaron Araki and Ayja Nakasone | Photo: Rae Huo

The Health Academy at Farrington High was one of Hawaii’s first learning centers – founded in the early 1990s to respond to a shortage of nurses. Today, there are about 230 students a year learning about health fields.

“It’s effective,” says Glenda Lau, who heads the academy. “Students who go through the program either become excited about learning more about the field, or know they don’t want to be in it. Students usually stay with us for two years and learn about body systems, biology and then skill-based job shadowing, possibly with a work/study job placement as part of their senior project. … We have definitely contributed graduates to this field.”

Building over two decades, the Department of Education has supported the range of workforce training programs such as career academies, learning centers and programs such as Jump Start and Running Start that offer college credits to high school students. And now, with millions of dollars in new federal grant funding, the Community Colleges and DOE are trying to better smooth the transition from career readiness before students graduate from high school into a broad base of career training in college.

A big piece of that push are two federal grants for workforce technical training through the U.S. Department of Labor – one for almost $25 million managed by Honolulu Community College, and a second for $14 million managed by Maui Community College.

“These service all seven community colleges,” says HCC chancellor Erika Lacro of the grant HCC oversees and distributes. “They benefit the entire state and are focused on three different areas: healthcare, agriculture and energy.

“We’re the hub for the energy training,” continues Lacro of the new curriculum being developed at HCC and then exported to other community colleges. “Windward Community College is the hub for agriculture and curriculum training, and Kapiolani Community College is the hub for the healthcare curriculum. We’re all doing a level of credit and noncredit training because we’re also targeting people already in the workforce who need an upgrade to their skills.

“For the energy component (at HCC), we’re training photovoltaic installers as well as developing more curriculum around electric vehicles,” continues Lacro. “Now the first EV cars are coming off warranty – the Prius is the first – so we’re finding we don’t yet have the training capability in the state to service them. So we’re working with the dealerships to train our students. Our graduates this year, and every year afterward will now have this capability. And the dealerships work very closely with us in bringing them on (for jobs,) so already these students have great opportunities.”

Butter lettuce sprouts grown at Campbell High School | Photo: Rae Huo

The goal of the $25 million grant is to train more than 5,000 people, says Lacro. So far, 2,000 have received training. While the grant ends this year, HCC officials have applied for a year’s extension to complete the training and they expect to hit their goal of 5,000 trained people over the next year. “As with many grants, the startup takes a long time so we’ve applied for an extension for one more year,” Lacro says. “We’ve spent 60 percent of the funding or have it allocated and we’re hoping – if they grant us the last year extension – we’ll have another year to finish the activities we’ve begun.”
HCC is also gearing up to apply for a third grant, another $20 million to train students in three more areas: cyber security, culinary arts and early childhood education.

“All of this is part of (President) Obama’s initiative to get more people into higher education,” says Lacro, “so it’s been really great.”

In addition to the three specific areas of training, she says, the $25 million grant targets people who have lost their jobs or need additional training, but have never been to college.

“We’ve also partnered with the One-Stop Centers (a partnership between the Department of Labor and DOE) and we’re doing training for people who need basic college skills but don’t feel college is for them,” says Lacro. “So we’re taking the training to them at the One-Stop Centers and developing spaces on our campus to have a one-stop presence there. We’re sharing space and working with them to get more and more people through higher education. I’d say we’ve already touched several hundred people in the One-Stop Centers and probably that will be 1,000 by the end of the year.”

The 10 One-Stop Centers in Hawaii are part of a national network of workforce training sites designed to link those seeking employment either to employers or training programs. The walk-in centers offer a range of free help, including counseling, and are newly focused on linking job seekers with additional training they need through the community colleges.

“Some of these people didn’t feel that coming onto a college campus was something they could ever do, but now they can experience the classes right at the One-Stop Center,” says Lacro. “People getting government assistance, displaced workers, or those who have been laid off, are being helped to get into higher education, or retrained for something else to give them new skills to enter a different type of workforce.

“This is a great partnership.”


Farming for the Future

At Campbell High, it looks like they are growing food, but they are actually growing citizens and stewards of the land.


There are dozen a students swarming around, but otherwise the scene at this 2-acre patch at Campbell High School does not look like a school.

A glistening, ripe strawberry peeks from among a bundle of leaves where others hang, half ripe or still green. Nearby, kale and green onions rise from neat beds sitting on concrete blocks.

Across the way, papaya trees are heavy with fruit, dozens of heads of organic butter lettuce and young bok choy thrive in neat rows in a greenhouse and a pondful of tilapia swim lazily in the shade of a mamaki tree.

Welcome to one of the 29 learning centers at 25 of Hawaii’s public high schools. (A few schools have more than one and a handful don’t have any.) This center at Campbell is one of the state’s best at preparing students for the workforce.

The Agriculture/Natural Resources Learning Center was officially launched at Campbell in 1992 after unofficially beginning years earlier. Over that time, more than 3,000 students have tried everything from farming to niche horticulture to business.

“This makes me see there are a lot of opportunities,” says Troy Cordeiro, 16, whose father, Callen Cordeiro, also graduated from the agriculture program at Campbell and now serves in the military.

“It makes me see you don’t have to focus on just one thing,” says Troy. “There are options. But learning respect and respecting relationships are two of the most important things.”

Students and graduates of Campbell High stand with Derek Chow (in front at far right) in one of the school’s greenhouses | Photo: Rae Huo

Sophomores, juniors, seniors – 150 young people from age 14 on up – are part of this center each year. They learn about sustainability, aquaponics, aeroponics and even how to analyze orchid cells. They plant tiny sprouts of lettuce without soil and learn how to control bugs without pesticides. They grow and harvest and cook – all under teacher Derek Chow’s guidance.

Chow began the program hoping it would prime students for jobs in agriculture, but that aim has expanded.

“Another goal of ours is to prepare students for leadership, college and career success so that, whatever job they’re looking at, they will have the cooperative skills, like teamwork,” he says. “We develop character, work ethic, those foundational attitudes that will successfully carry them through anything they go into.”

Those skills are already evident among Chow’s students. When Hawaii Business visited during spring break, a dozen students showed up on campus by 6 a.m. to pick fresh vegetables, help Chow explain the program and cook a healthy farm-to-table lunch for the visitors.

These students call Chow’s classes their favorites and say that he not only teaches them about plant growth, biology, chemistry and sustainability, but how to be good citizens.

Strawberries grown by the students | Photo: Rae Huo

“The teamwork we learn builds leadership for the future,” says 17-year-old Carl Ragsac. “And we’re using sustainability methods to help grow and refresh our gardens.”

The tour reveals the students are not just learning how but why.

“We just potted the kale,” says Brandon Ruiz, 17. “People are now putting it in smoothies because it’s healthy.”

Many of the students have taken their new skills home with them, either to start gardens for their families, or to work with aunties, uncles, or grandparents on gardens already under way.

At his home, Ruiz says, “We grow all sorts of things, like green onions, lettuce, bok choy, bananas.”

Kayla Tells, 16, says, “I help my mom and grandma out with gardening at my grandma’s house.”

Chow’s bonds with the community create many opportunities for students to try jobs, from landscaping at nearby golf courses, to working in Waianae orchid farms, to paid jobs with landscaping businesses.

Aaron Araki, often comes back to his alma mater to mentor students | Photo: Rae Huo

He’s even been the inspiration for students choosing culinary arts programs and works closely with chef Alan Wong, who often contributes his expertise, supplies the school with books, and regularly checks out the school’s organic gardens. He’s even used some of the produce in his upscale restaurants.

Sal Delizo is a 1991 graduate who eventually started his own landscaping business. “When I was in the program,” he remembers, “they were just spearheading that school-to-work deal. It was such fun and we saw results, and that’s what sparked my interest. We did the actual planting and then we cooked and ate what we grew!

“For me and my buddies, the whole thing was, we’ve got to join Mr. Chow’s class so we can eat all that good food! Right out of high school two of us went to work for the golf course. After I went to college, I was the assistant superintendent at the new Ewa Beach Golf Course. I eventually became an irrigation mechanic at the Hawaii Prince (golf course), in charge of the whole irrigation system.”

Many of Chow’s graduates stay in touch and return to mentor current students. One is Aaron Araki, a 1995 graduate who was entranced with orchid horticulture – to the point of growing hundreds of plants in his parents’ backyard.

“In my sophomore year, I had a class in agriculture mechanics and agriculture design and it opened my ideas to what was possible,” says Araki, who went on to earn both bachelor and master of science degrees in tropical horticulture at UH. Today, he protects the Islands from invasive species and threatening diseases as an inspector with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Today’s students have the same enthusiasm that Araki did almost two decades ago. “This class has given me an opportunity to look forward to a good future and new possibilities,” says Luhama Loketi, 17.

That enthusiasm fills Chow with great satisfaction.

“Our goal also,” he says, “is to instill lifelong responsibility for stewardship of our land, our ocean and our natural resources so the many generations to come can enjoy what we have today.”


Hawaii’s Top 10

Here are Hawaii’s top high school learning centers, based on an evaluation by the state Department of Education.

  1. Campbell  Agriculture/Natural Resources
  2. Kaiser  Communication Arts and Technology
  3. Waialua  Career and Technical Education
  4. Castle  Performing Arts
  5. Pearl City  Performing Arts/Music
  6. Maui  Science and Technology
  7. Baldwin  Performing Arts
  8. Kaimuki  Performing Arts
  9. Mililani  Science and Technology
  10. Roosevelt  Media and Technology

Note: Many schools have more than one learning center.

Categories: Education