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Hawaii Bill to Help Education System Recruit High-Tech Workers

One of the problems with recruiting high-tech workers is that some are restricted by "noncompete" clauses in their employment contracts, according to supporters of the bill.

(Tribune News Service) -- Hawaii's public education system has a difficult time recruiting experienced technology workers to support the state's schools, and the Department of Education is now backing a bill at the Legislature to allow high-tech employees to move more freely from one employer to the next.

One of the problems with recruiting high-tech workers is that some are restricted by "noncompete" clauses in their employment contracts, according to supporters of the bill. Those clauses prohibit workers from leaving one company or organization to join another company in the same region.

Superintendent of Education Kathryn Mata­yo­shi said the state Department of Education is one of the largest technology employers in the state, and it is "a challenge" to find experienced workers to fill higher-level openings in the state system.

The DOE's Office of Information Technology Services currently has 19 vacancies, and it takes the department an average of about a year to fill each vacancy, said Dona­lyn Dela Cruz, director of communications for the department.

Some extremely qualified tech workers employed by private companies have said they want to work for the department, but Mata­yo­shi said those tech workers are sometimes unable to take state jobs because of their noncompete agreements.

"For employees of large consumer-oriented companies which do business with nearly everyone, a noncompete agreement tends to effectively eliminate nearly all viable options for employment within the state," Mata­yo­shi said in written testimony to the Legislature. "This encourages technology workers to move out of state to secure employment within their chosen field, thus reducing the available candidate pool to fill our most experienced positions."

House Bill 1090 would prohibit technology companies from inserting "noncompete" language into their tech workers' contracts that would prevent those employees from working for anyone else in the same geographic area.

The House Economic Development and Business Committee last week unanimously approved the measure, which now advances to the House Consumer Protection Committee.

The Senate committees on Economic Development and Technology, and Commerce and Consumer Protection also last week advanced Senate Bill 1279, a similar measure that would prohibit noncompete clauses that are longer than a year.

House Economic Development Chairman Derek Kawa­kami said noncompete requirements keep tech workers "from being able to have that kind of employee mobility that other industries enjoy."

"A lot of the guys in the tech industry approached us and brought to our attention the challenges of being geographically situated as we are, separated by thousands of miles of ocean, when they have noncompete agreements that are restrictive," Kawa­kami (D, Hana­lei-Princeville-Kapaa) said.

The bill is opposed by Hawaiian Telcom and the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, which represents more than 1,000 businesses in the state.

The bill "is unnecessary and would undermine the development and growth of the technology sector in Hawaii," the chamber said in written testimony. "This bill removes the competitiveness in the technology sector, which relies heavily on information technology. Noncompete agreements are essential for technology companies to build and develop a business to compete globally."

©2015 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC