Hawaii businesses can expand students’ horizons through the state’s largest workforce development program.

For the past seven years, the LEI (Lead, Expose, Inspire) program of ClimbHI has been helping high school students throughout the entire state follow their dreams by exposing them to businesses and careers with links to the hospitality industry. Sponsored by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the program brings more than 1,000 students together on Kauai, Maui, Oahu and Hawaii Island.

“Our hotel likes to be involved in the next generation, because ultimately they’re going to be the ones that fuel this economy and support the hospitality industry in the coming years,” said Jay Kitashima, director of front desk and residences at Trump International Hotel Waikiki, who has participated in the LEI program as a site visit host.

“It’s a good opportunity for us as hotel staff, from our busser, who is at the entry level, all the way up to our executives to show that we want to be a part of this community and the education of our kids in Hawaii,” Kitashima added.

Over 100 businesses across the islands are anticipated to participate, and the LEI program is looking to increase that number.

The LEI events will take place April 6 on Kauai at the Sheraton Kauai.

Students can tour hotels to learn about the operations and team members, as well as attend career fairs to meet businesses such as hotels, airlines, tour providers and restaurants as well as learn more about post-secondary educational opportunities.

Students can meet with organizations that have daily interactions with visitors, such as the police department, public relations and marketing agencies that work for tourism clients, and many others.

“HTA is proud to support the LEI program because it supports the future of Hawaii’s tourism industry,” said George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

In terms of workforce development, the LEI program not only exposes high school students to different careers, but it also provides college students real world experience by having them plan and execute the career fairs as part of their coursework for classes at Hawaii Pacific University, University of Hawaii Maui College and Kauai Community College.

“We have seen the growth and development of high school students that have gone on to pursue college degrees in hospitality management while working part-time or interning with a hotel, when previously the student had never thought about anything beyond getting out of high school,” said Julie Morikawa, president of ClimbHI.

“The LEI program opens up students minds as to what could be an amazing future right here in Hawaii by encouraging them to take on new roles and responsibilities they never imagined before,” she said.

Preston Hayden of Kapaa High School takes a site tour with Kyle Cremer of the Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club as part of the 2017 LEI Program. Photo courtesy of ClimbHI

by John Steinhorst, The Garden Island