A family inside and outside the workplace

by Shae Ishimoto | Aug. 8, 2019

Wet stack from Kahe units 3 & 4, which acts like a chimney. When electricity is made, steam is produced and exits through the top of the wet stack.

As a recent college graduate, searching for a job was one of the most anxiety-filled tasks I’ve had to complete. I applied to multiple job openings and internships. I knew I wanted to come back home to Hawaii after graduating from Western Oregon University, so I searched various local company websites and job engines.

One day, I thought to myself, “How great of a story would it be if I worked at the same company as my parents?” Both my parents work at Hawaiian Electric. At that moment, I decided to go on Hawaiian Electric’s website to look at the available jobs. Luckily, there was an internship for social media posted and it fit nicely with my Communications degree. I applied for that position — and another one just in case.

Even after I filled out the online application, I didn’t tell my parents that I had applied. I wanted to surprise them if I did get selected as a summer intern. And, if I didn’t get it, I might not even say anything to spare us any disappointment. After a few interviews, I was offered the social media internship and shared the good news with my parents.

Growing up, I’ve always been very familiar with Hawaiian Electric, its culture and its facilities. I’ve had a basic understanding that the company promotes safety, integrity, and excellence. Most importantly, the company cares about its workers and customers like family.

My mom is a customer field representative who works out of the Ward Avenue baseyard, and my dad is a control operator at Kahe Power Plant. My mom is usually out in the field locking up meters on homes and buildings that don’t require electricity, while my dad works out of a power plant overseeing and ensuring that electricity is being produced for customers.

Over the years, I’ve heard multiple stories of what my parents do at work, but I wanted to get a better understanding of what happens on a normal day. That’s when I decided to shadow my dad at Kahe Power Plant to see what he actually does.

David Ishimoto, Hawaiian Electric control operator, checking the power plant equipment.

As a control operator, he oversees two of the six units at the plant, making sure all equipment and regulations are in check while electricity is being generated. Although it might seem like a simple role, it’s complicated and there are millions of dollars’ worth of sensitive equipment at stake. He also has the responsibility of ensuring the safety of his employees and coworkers. My dad works in an environment where heavy equipment is being moved around, the temperature exceeds 500 degrees in some areas, and pipes hold over 120 pounds of pressure. The employees at the power plant must do their work with precision to ensure electricity is being produced safely for the entire island of Oahu.

I’m proud of my dad. To get to this supervisor position, he had to go through many ranks such as a utility operator, someone who manages all the equipment on the bottom levels of the unit and makes sure that all of it is working properly, and a junior operator, a person who is in charge of operations on the upper levels of the unit. As a control operator, my dad is required to be knowledgeable in all aspects of the power plant. He needs to have the knowledge and skillset of a utility operator and junior operator — as well as a control operator. One of his coworkers described my dad’s position the best when he stated that it’s like “a 20-year apprentice program where you have to remember everything from the very moment you step foot at the power plant.”

Steam exiting at the top of the wet stack at Kahe Power Plant.

Could you imagine trying to remember everything that you learned for 20 years from when you were five years old and then having to apply it every day? My dad needs to know everything because if any mishaps were to happen, he needs to know how to fix it immediately or face the risk of tripping the unit to go offline and potentially cause power outages.

It also amazed me just how eco-friendly the company tries to be. My dad explained how they have to monitor the ocean water being used to cool equipment. The water used must be treated before being let back out into the ocean. One person who was fishing for tropical fish right across the street from the plant said, “Whatever the plant is doing, they’re doing it right because the tropical marine life here is doing a lot better than most places”.

The ocean across Kahe Power Plant.

Being able to see what my dad does has given me a greater appreciation for him and what Hawaiian Electric does. Having to memorize everything from the day he started 27 years ago, and all the responsibility he takes on every day is truly unbelievable. And, most importantly, this internship has only brought us closer as a family — inside and outside of the workplace.

Mahalo to my dad, David Ishimoto (right), for a tour of Kahe Power Plant and always working hard to keep the lights on for customers. I (left) had a great time learning more about what you do as a control operator.

Shae Ishimoto is a corporate relations intern at Hawaiian Electric Company.

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