Originally from Maui, Isemoto Contracting Co. Ltd.’s Kalai Akiona was initially attracted to the construction industry for the same reason many others are — competitive wages and great benefits.
More than 20 years after graduating from Lahainaluna High School and acquiring an associates degree in Liberal Arts from Maui Community College, the 48-year-old now works as an unsupervised gradesetter on Hawai‘i island.
QUESTION: DID YOU PURSUE ANY SPECIFIC EDUCATION OR TRAINING AFTER HIGH SCHOOL?
ANSWER: I applied for the Operating Engineers apprenticeship program and ranked high enough to be dispatched.
Q: WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY LIKE?
A: [We have a] morning meeting to discuss the tasks for the day, set up equipment, lay out and give information for those tasks, break down equipment [and then] pau hana.
Q: WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN HAWAI‘I’S CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY?
A: Working in the construction industry is physically demanding [and requires] working long hours in potentially dangerous conditions. To succeed in my position, you need dedication, perseverance, a strong back and [to] be able to think on your feet.
Q: DID YOU FACE CHALLENGES EARLY IN YOUR CAREER? HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
A: I was a single mom in my twenties, who up until [that] point [had attended] college and [worked] desk jobs when I started the apprenticeship program. It took a while for me to acclimate to the demands of the job, but with dedication and perseverance and a willingness to learn, I’ve made a career out of it.
Q: WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
A: Besides the pay? Building things. We’ve built school buildings, subdivisions, roads, water tanks [and even] added on to airports. [Those projects are all] improving our communities.
Q: HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY AFFECTED THE WAY YOU WORK?
A: The technological advances that Isemoto is taking advantage of allows us to be more efficient — and makes my job waayyyyyyy easier!
Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ESSENTIAL SKILLS NEEDED TO WORK IN CONSTRUCTION?
A: Listening, critical thinking, attention to detail [and how to] be a team player.
Q: HAVE YOU HAD ANY MENTORS?
A: Too many to count. If you’re not learning something new every day, you’re doing something wrong. There’s a wealth of knowledge in the old-timers and an admirable drive in the newbies.
Q: WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 10 YEARS?
A: If I’m not retired by then, still in the same position. I really do love what I do.
Q: WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE CONSIDERING A CAREER IN CONSTRUCTION?
A: [Apply for an] apprenticeship program. Research all you can about construction. Talk to people in the industry. Construction is [a] hands-on [job]. You learn best by doing.
Q: HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR JOB WITH HOME LIFE?
A: Like anything else, time management. The work day normally starts at 7:00 a.m. but finishes at 3:30 p.m. Mondays [through] Fridays. That gives you a couple of hours in the afternoon to do what needs to be done so you can get a good night’s rest, because morning comes real quick. Then you have the weekend for bigger projects, or some rest and relaxation.
Q: ANY OTHER WORDS OF WISDOM?
A: Construction is hard work, but the benefits are worth it. [The] bonus is when you find a company and crew who become more like family.