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Finding Employment in Hawaii – What is in Demand?

Employment in Hawaii

Employment is tough to find for most people. Jobs exist in certain career fields. If you’re a waiter-waitress, nurse or other healthcare worker, or you have worked in the travel industry, you can probably find a job in Hawaii. If not, it’s a serious struggle finding employment for most people that move to Hawaii to live. The entire island is built on tourism. If your specialty is not sales, customer service, waiting tables, or selling retail you might want to reconsider living in Hawaii if you need to work – or at least doing a lot of research before you arrive. I know a guy with a lot of different skills that arrived on Oahu and tried for a year to get a job. Finally he accepted a telephone sales job just to get some income.

It’s a very tough job market, and you shouldn’t let the unemployment figures lull you into a false sense of security about the place. The jobs most often open are in those areas I mentioned above. Bring a whole lot of savings to support you if you do not have skills in one of those fields.

Someone wrote me recently and said she and her husband were thinking of moving to Maui. They didn’t have jobs yet. What would their chances be of getting something in construction?

Finding a job on Oahu might be quite difficult if you’re looking for something specific. When I moved back in 2002 I knew I wanted a job working in the internet marketing area since that was my specialty. I knew I wanted to make $50K minimum, but hopefully $70K. I was willing to wait a year or so before making it to $70K. The online business world was going very strong at that point and I didn’t have trouble within two weeks of lining up a great position with a up-and-coming dotcom business.

The jobs available in Hawaii are, of course, mostly based on tourism. The second biggest area is either construction or in healthcare. The figures are not accurate when describing construction job availability since many workers are working under the table and off the record.

The available jobs are most often in these two areas. If you can work in either of those two industries you probably won’t have any trouble at all finding a job on  Oahu.

That’s just Oahu. Oahu has about 1 million residents and there is some variety in the tourism area. You could even start your own unique tour business if you wanted. Oahu is not that difficult to find jobs on – and, you’ll probably be fine if that’s where you want to live.

Now, on to the other islands…

I’ve spent a year plus on Maui – working as a Marketing Manager for a resort firm there. Maui is heavenly – it was a perfect match for me. Many people that visit Maui think the same thing. Maui is high on the list for people wanting to move to Hawaii – but few have the money or job skills needed in order to make it there.

In my case I started on Oahu and from here, found what I thought might be the perfect job on Maui. It’s much easier to start on Oahu and transition to another island from there. Much easier because you are now “in Hawaii” and can interview for positions on other islands. As you probably know it’s very difficult to secure a position in Hawaii without first already living in Hawaii. A necessary catch-22 for most businesses looking to hire full-time staff. They want to meet you first. Go figure…

If you’re coming straight to one of the smaller (in population) islands – Big Island, Kauai, Maui, or worse, Lanai or Molokai, you’ll want to have your ducks order. Ducks meaning dollars. Cash savings. You’ll want to have a lot of reserves because the reality of moving to one of the smaller Hawaiian islands without a job is that you’re going to spend a lot of your cash reserves just on basic living expenses until you find a job – which might take a year in some cases.

Finding a job on Maui – if I just arrived there – would be quite difficult. I can do a hundred different jobs related to internet marketing – but, it’s quite possible that when I arrived – nobody is hiring. The job market is very small for everything except tourism related jobs, and healthcare (or retail).

If you have job skills in an area that doesn’t relate to tourism or construction or something that relates directly to positions needed in Hawaii – in Maui, or one of the other islands besides Oahu – you might have a REALLY tough time of finding a job.

Big Island – There are two populations centers, but there aren’t more than 200,000 people living on this island. Cost of living is cheaper than Oahu or Maui, but still – the number of job openings must be pretty weak. Especially during this time of economic flat line.

Kauai would be worse than Maui for job hunting. Finding a job outside of waiter, pineapple picker, or retail on Molokai and Lanai would be virtually impossible. And then, if you did – could you afford to live there?

So, to wrap it up I would say this about moving to Hawaii and finding a job…

Moving to Hawaii if you need to find a job, is difficult and the expenses you’ll face, and the difficulty you may have in landing a job, are things you need to take under careful consideration. If it were me I would try desperately to find a couple of companies that are hiring for what I did before I moved. That way at least there’s a chance I could have a job quickly and not use all my savings as I ran all over the islands to find a job.

I’d not recommend moving directly to any other island except Oahu unless you have a lot of savings and you do not mind blowing it.

Medical Career Field

The huge “medical” field or health field appears to be the best career field in Hawaii. Best meaning – lots of opportunity and a competitive salary to match Hawaii’s high cost of living.

At Craigslist.org there are more than 120 jobs listed in the field just over a three-day span. I didn’t check to see which were duplicates – but, most were not.

Hawaii has an aging population. It’s a place where many from California, Michigan, and countries all over the world go to retire. The cost of medical care for elderly on an out-patient basis is very high. Often families will choose to hire their own in-house personal care aide to help their elderly parents to save some money and allow the flexibility of keeping the parents at home and not in a much too expensive seniors’ facility.

Medical transcription is one job that has surfaced, and is paying about $25 per hour. If your vocabulary and typing skills are up to it you might try that as a career. Nearly all the jobs on Craigslist.org are for telecommuters so you can live in Hawaii and work with any number of medical facilities across the USA. I saw an online course among the ads that said it certified people for being medical transcriptionists. Seems like a good job.

Hawaii business is focused on a couple things and if you work in one of these areas you can likely move there and find a job quickly:

Hawaii Tourism

– If you want to do sales, answering phones, or working in the hotel industry and have experience you’ll find a job quickly. If you sell condominiums or time-share and want to make your mark in Maui or one of the other islands -there is ample opportunity to do so.


– There are lots of aging people on Oahu and the other islands. They need in-home care, but not necessarily nurses. There are many live-in opportunities for those that want to trade some hours of taking care of a person in need in exchange for a room and sometimes food. There are also plenty of counseling jobs and jobs working with veterans or those that need mental health services. Plenty of jobs.


– There are many jobs working with construction firms – and home renovation firms. People are putting a lot of money into rehabbing their homes and need help. Tilers and roofers are always in demand.

Those with skills they can use online to make $ can move to Hawaii easily. If you can do web development or writing or have some other valuable skills that enable you to cyber-commute you can build up a couple of jobs (gigs) and move. You’ll have money until the projects run out – and by then you’ll have worked hard enough to get more to replenish them and stay in Hawaii.

Information Technology

– This is another employment field that does well in Hawaii. I have a few articles about my experiences getting IT jobs in Hawaii below – click one for more information.

How I Found my First IT Job in Hawaii

How I Landed My Second IT Job in Hawaii

My Third IT Job in Hawaii – You’re Toast!

Want to Post a New Hawaii Job?

Want to See Current Hawaii Job Listings?

About the author: Moving to Hawaii was one of the most amazing moves ever. I strongly encourage you to consider it if you’re in the financial position to make it work. Living in Hawaii has a fair bit of both positive and negative experiences awaiting each of us who give it a try. Read some of the articles here and try to get a feel for whether you might thrive in the islands. I wrote an entire book on the subject and it’s usually less than $5. It’s up there on the right side column. Best of luck and life to you! Aloha! – Vern L.

12 comments… add one
  • Brian

    I have had office skills in accounting, administration, HR, and labor law liaison between attorneys, working 8 hours sitting in a office chair. I am a mid 50s who’s planning to move islands in 2016. It seems like not many jobs relating to my entire careers in Hawaii. It will be great if you give me a hint for me to find a job similar to my experiences. Otherwise, I would have to change my career. Thanks.

  • Rosary

    Hi… i would like to ask more info regarding working visa sponsorship. Are there any companies in Hawaii willing to sponsor working visa for foreigners? Thank you

  • Jorge

    Thanks for all that imformation. I dreaming for years to move with my family to the islands, but i dont know where to start ,i afraid. I m diesel mechanic and trailer mechanic, certified tankers inspector, certified dmv diesel impector ,welder. What posibilities for me to find a job in Hawaii. Tans agsin Vern.

  • Jennifer Hill

    We are interested in moving to the big Island Hawaii in mid to late 2016 starting to do the research. I am a social worker my husband does construction-we have so many questions and like manh dont know where to start. We know employment before arrival is a requirement on this island. I am hoping to figure out On which part or area of island we should begin looking at real estate prices to make sure we can even get a phone home that we can afford that meets all my needs. Where should we focus for our residency with in regards to work location considering the fields we work in which in my case could lead to County employment. Also want to know more of the vog issues as we do have asthma issues although I don’t think that will be a problem. Any pros and cons of living on the big island would always be appreciated. Thank you for your post!

  • Roberto

    Hello Vern,
    First of all, thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge of the islands, very interesting.
    I have a question, do you know any serious domestic agencies down there?
    for domestic jobs, chauffeur, personal assitant, live in couple, nanny…

    Thank you again.


  • valerie

    I am interested in moving to hawii in a year. I am wondering if there are a lot of nursing assistant jobs as well as social work job. I am willing to relocate and start working on my doctorate degree the semester I arriv but I need to be assured that jobs are offered in my two fields and pay good.

  • Jett

    Hi vern i have been dreaming if living in hawaii but i dont know where to start. Im a filipino and i work in a small contractor company catering mainly on hvac( heating, ventilaition and air conditioning) how can i move to hawaii. I dont mind working as a waiter or in the tourism sector but i lack the experience. Help me

  • Crystal

    Hi. I couldn’t find the date on when this was posted. I’m inquiring specifically about the nursing field in Hawaii. There are many many posts on allnurses.com discussing the lack of jobs for nurses. Many people discussed months and months of job searching with no luck in successfully obtaining an RN position. Also, a post I came across on city-data.com discussed many nurses out of work on Oahu due to two medical centers closing down and many forced into any job they can find and unable to secure a nursing position. However, some of the posts I’ve just referenced are older, going back to 2008 all the way through 2012. I’m wondering if this post is new information and the opportunities for nurses have improved on the islands? We are a good 3-5 years away from being able to make this a possibility as hubby is finishing up his schooling and would like to gain experience prior to relocating. However, I’d love an update on the current job climate for those in the nursing field if you have new information. Thank you!

    • Hi Crystal,

      The job market is constantly changing – there was an ongoing need for nurses for years on Oahu especially, and there will be a need again in the future. Impossible to keep up with all professions. :) Do research and try to find forums that have information within the last couple of months, as you can probably already guess. :)

  • Moni

    I found this post very interesting.Thank you.I stumbled upon it by a pure incidence while searching for job situation on the Hawaiian islands.I have been fascinated with Hawaii since my teen days which has been a couple of decades ago but that love of living there if only for awhile ,gets stronger and stronger as the years go by.Now I’m looking at going back to school and picking a career,but also weighting my options as a Canadian and trying to decide on something that might make that dream come true one day. Are you familiar with any Canadians working there and I’d assume it’d be even harder for us to get hired?Are there any good options or should I just quit dreaming?

  • starla

    my husband does auto glass repair and ive been searching to see what the demand is in the field on the big island and am not having much luck… we live in Utah now and have dreamed of raising our children on an island but with kids its harder to pick up and go try our luck.

  • Maria

    Thank you Vern for all the infos about moving to Hawaii. This was very helpful :)

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