Photo by: Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

Chef Michael Young of the Sheraton Kauai Resort, leads a line of Kauai Community College culinary arts students and other chefs in serving up Niihau Lamb during the ACF Breakfast at the Kauai Community College in this February photo.

Climbing high by Jenna Carpenter – The Garden Island

KOLOA — Julie Morikawa wants to inspire Kauai students to get excited about their future by helping them realize opportunities in the tourism industry.

For the president of ClimbHi, the two go hand-in-hand.

“Tourism is the No. 1 industry in the state, so any job you can think of applies to tourism — whether it be housekeeping, farming or government work,” she said.

It’s important for Hawaii keiki to pursue a career in tourism because the industry won’t have a future if it can’t be perpetuated by local hands, she said.

“The aloha spirit is our competitive advantage in the Hawaii tourism industry, and if we don’t have local keiki, we lose our advantage,” she said.

June Cappiello, director of public relations at the Sheraton Kauai Resort, in Koloa, agreed.

“On Kauai, tourism is so important, and we want to reach out to the next generation of hospitality professionals,” she said.

As a way to inspire students to pursue a career in tourism, ClimbHi, a nonprofit that fosters learning by partnering with businesses, schools and other organizations to promote job awareness, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority are hosting a workforce development program, called LEI, or Leadership, Exploration and Inspiration on the islands.

“HTA is proud to support Kauai’s ClimbHI program and show the next generation that they can have a successful career in tourism,” said George Szigeti, HTA president. “Workforce development is vital to the sustainability of our state’s most important industry on Kauai and all the islands. We encourage our homegrown talent on Kauai to consider tourism for their future and explore educational and employment opportunities to become our leaders of tomorrow.”

The LEI program, which offers tours of different hotels on the island, as well as career advancement opportunities like a job fair, will take place on Kauai at the Sheraton on Wednesday.
There will be 140 students, from Waimea and Kapaa high schools, as well as Ke Kula Niihau o Kekaha, a Hawaiian-focused charter school, attending the program, Morikawa said.

This is the first time the program will be offered in full on Kauai. Last year, students from Waimea High School met at the Sheraton. They didn’t tour different hotels and there wasn’t a career fair, she said.

At the start of the day-long program, students will listen to speeches from local officials, as well as watch cultural programs performed by Ke Kula Niihau o Kekaha.

Students will be divided into groups and taken to three hotels on the island — the Sheraton, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa and the Kauai Marriott Resort in Lihue.

The tours give them a firsthand view of the many moving parts of the hotel.

“They will be exposed to everything on the property,” she said. “The tour also helps expand the students’ awareness of what kinds of jobs are available; they’re not just front desk jobs or housekeepers,” she said.

At the Sheraton, students will have the chance to meet with the housekeeping and security teams, Cappiello said.
“We want to make sure we touch different departments,” she said. “It’s not just the food and beverage or the front office; there are so many opportunities in the hotel industry.”

After the hotel tours, students will return to the Sheraton for a job fair.

The job fair isn’t specific to the tourism industry, Morikawa said. About 20 businesses will be represented.
Morikawa said she was inspired to start the LEI Program, which has been going strong for five years, because she wanted to give Hawaii students their best chance to succeed.

“I was born and raised on Oahu and the Big Island. I shouldn’t be where I am today, if you look at state pregnancy and drop-out rates,” she said. “The only thing that got me to where I am is dancing hula in the hotels, which exposed me to the industry.”

Now, almost 20 years later, Morikawa is in the tourism industry.

“When I came back from college, it shocked me there was nothing in the education program that promoted tourism in school, and I felt it was my responsibility to give back.”