Kekoa Leialoha looks ahead to a promising future, and after taking a non-traditional path through the Hawai‘i Youth Challenge Academy, he is on track to make a living operating heavy machinery, including excavators used in construction.
After initially dropping out of high school on Hawaiʻi island, Kekoa Leialoha seemed destined for a future full of everything but success.
However, after graduating from the Hawaiʻi Youth Challenge Academy and working with Kinai ʻEha, which provides real-world vocational skills and training for at-risk 17-to-24 year-olds in the Koʻolau region, Leialoha is weeks away from starting a well-paying career operating heavy machinery in the construction field.
Leialohaʻs story is one that more young Native Hawaiians were made aware of at the Kealakūlia Trades Career Fair held May 16 at the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Kaʻiwakīloumoku Hawaiian Cultural Center.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there, and you can be whoever you want to be, it just comes down to putting in the hard work,” Leialoha said. “I promised myself and my mom that I was going to focus on my career of operating heavy machinery. Itʻs about gaining these positive experiences that will create a better future.”
The event was organized by KS’ Kealakūlia community education team’s Post-High Counseling Unit. Nearly 270 participants and haumāna ages 16-24 from community programs including KS, WorkHawaii Youth Program, Vocational Rehab, Queen Liliʻuʻokalani Trust, Residential Youth Services and Empowerment, and KUPU attended the event, which featured 18 vendors showcasing their trades such as operating engineers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians.
“As the Post-High Counseling Unit is currently piloting ʻSuccess Coaching,’ we wanted to reach out to our community to provide alternative career pathways beyond college,” Kealakūlia Post-High Counselor Ashley Holck said. “Our idea behind the fair was to create an intimate networking environment for vulnerable youth and expose them to the various opportunities that can support themselves and their ‘ohana in Hawaiʻi.”
The Operating Engineers Hawaii Joint Apprenticeship Committee was one of the vendors on hand at the Kealakūlia Trades Career Fair, and the group showcased the potential career paths that youth like Leialoha can strive to follow. The team brought two simulators that allowed participants to try out some of the heavy equipment used in construction today.
“We teach our program applicants about the aspects of safety and how to run heavy equipment, so events like this help people who may not have college in their future know that there are opportunities to make really good money and have a comfortable lifestyle doing these trades,” Aaron Tilton, senior instructor at Operating Engineers, said. “Once people find out that you donʻt need a degree to be an operating engineer, and then they find out what we make per hour, it’s a positive for this generation moving into the workforce.”
Success Coaching is currently being piloted in four KS regions: Koʻolau, ʻEwa, Kona, Oʻahu, and Waiʻanae Coast. In addition to discovering and understanding the multiple career pathways within the union and trades realm, participants are also connected with Hawaiian cultural lessons and background to further the intimate and safe environment for youth.
Participants at the Kealakūlia Trades Career Fair engaged in cultural activities, including learning about traditional Native Hawaiian celestial navigation from Polynesian Voyaging Society crewmember and KS ‘Ohana Engagement Project Manager Mark Ellis who shared examples from the Mālama Honua worldwide voyage.