The students enrolled in Ho’okipa brought comparable challenges to those of the general workforce — insufficient knowledge of workplace math, writing and communication skills. The curriculum at Ho’okipa is geared to improve these areas while also matching the curriculum to the workplace.

“We aren’t here to teach things like higher level math such as calculus. Rather knowledge more closely related to workplace math skills they could apply to daily work,” says Higa. “The point of the program is to prepare students with workplace knowledge and skills so that they may not only work to support themselves financially, but also to become contributing members of their community.” 

In the classroom, students learn math for taking inventory, summarization writing skills for memos and reports, and how to communicate instructions to other co-workers. Above all, there is an emphasis on how to be professional.

“We want to create strong customer service,” says Higa. “If you are a cleaning professional in a mall, you need to be able to communicate with customers. Answer questions like, ‘Where’s the restroom?’ or ‘Do you know where this store is.’ Not only do you need to do a good job cleaning, but you also have be an ambassador for that mall.”

On the second day of class, students went on job interviews at their preferred places of employment and had to earn a position.

Students who worked as school facilities maintenance personnel received real-world experience by dust mopping, sweeping and surface cleaning the classrooms. They were taught first-hand from Team Clean operation managers industry standards on floor care, deep cleaning carpet and upholstery — skills implemented when they took on the feat of cleaning the school’s 300-seat auditorium. In addition to cleaning techniques, students were taught proper safety measures, chemical selection and how to read Safety Data Sheets.

“When they come out of our program, they have a leg-up over other high school graduates because they’ve been exposed to theoretical classroom workplace training that has been juxtaposed to real-life work experience,” says Higa.

The important thing is to give Millennials the experience. Many people dismiss cleaning and other hospitality entry-level work without ever giving it a try or learning anything about the industry. At Ho’okipa, students can make an educated decision about becoming a cleaning professional.

Many kids are surprised to learn that cleaning positions pay as high as $14 an hour in Hawaii, which is nearly double the state’s minimum wage. To these students, who don’t always have college aspirations or may struggle to even graduate high school, that compensation sounds pretty good.

And Ho’okipa instructors stress that it’s just a starting point. With the right job skills, there’s opportunity for advancement.

“The purpose of our program isn’t to promote earning a minimum wage; we want them to earn a livable wage,” says Higa. “That means giving them the skills for advancement should they choose to pursue a supervisor or administrative position.”

The inaugural program was a clear success. Not only did all the students complete the classroom and field work, but four of the Ho’okipa alumni are employed part-time for Benz at Team Clean. A couple of students have even expressed interest in working full-time after high school graduation.
“A couple of students may not have planned on graduating high school — now they see the opportunity to graduate and they have a head start on life after graduation. They even have the opportunity to go to college,” says Benz. “They also have a higher self-worth because they see their value.”

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