Job seekers’ chances at career fair: ‘pretty good,’ employers say

Winston-Salem Journal
September 14, 2012

The odds of finding work in a 10 percent unemployment climate remain frustratingly long Friday for the 615 job seekers at the Winston-Salem Urban League’s annual career fair.

But as they entered the gymnasium of Forsyth Technical Community College’s West campus, their collective sense of optimism and hope was unmistakable.

Unlike many recent job fairs, in which the best outcome to be expected was a handshake and an exchanged résumé, many of the 47 participating employers are actively hiring.

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Article: The odds of finding work in a 10 percent unemployment climate remain frustratingly long Friday for the 615 job seekers at the Winston-Salem Urban League’s annual career fair.

But as they entered the gymnasium of Forsyth Technical Community College’s West campus, their collective sense of optimism and hope was unmistakable.

Unlike many recent job fairs, in which the best outcome to be expected was a handshake and an exchanged résumé, many of the 47 participating employers are actively hiring.

Those employers, including BB&T Corp., Caterpillar Inc., Inmar Inc., Pepsi Bottling Ventures LLC and RockTenn Co., are not looking for workers when and if the economy turns around. They say they need qualified applicants now.

That reality stoked Marcy Lucas’ pursuit of a new information-technology or project coordinator job after a 10-month employment contract wasn’t renewed. She said she was out of work for about a year before the contract job came along.

Lucas said she has tried her best to stay optimistic in her job search “because otherwise it gets frustrating and draining.”

“Even if there isn’t a right fit with one employer here, maybe they have heard of other companies that are hiring that might be a fit,” Lucas said.

The bulk of the job seekers ranged from their early 30s to late 60s, and crossed genders and races.

David Coady, an Inmar recruiter, said the company has IT and customer-service job openings created by attrition and expansion.

The company committed in April to expanding in Winston-Salem, pledging to add 212 jobs and retain more than 700 employees. It said in July that it was moving its headquarters to downtown by late 2013.

“We have between 10 and 12 openings now on our website, and that can fluctuate on a daily basis,” Coady said. “We need tech expertise for the IT positions and some level of previous customer-service experience.”

When asked the odds of Friday’s job seekers eventually getting hired by Inmar, Coady stressed it was “pretty good.”

“We have received, as you can imagine since the announcement, a huge number of applications,” Coady said. “An online application is a must so we can track applicants.

“However, one of the reasons we come to these job fairs is because we tend to meet people who come cold to our booth. They may have many of the job skills we are looking for.”

RockTenn’s Merchandising Displays division has about 30 job openings, many related to a new shift it has started in Winston-Salem, according to Tonya Chatwood, a human-resources coordinator. The company has more than 600 local employees after completing its acquisition of Smurfit-Stone this year.

“Some of the jobs are those that have opened up because employees have been promoted,” Chatwood said. “Qualified candidates for our entry-level jobs in many instances need a high school diploma or a GED.”

Caterpillar, understandably, had the most popular booth in the early hours of the job fair given the company’s stability and plans to have 510 full- and part-time jobs.

Allen Unger, a human resources official, said Caterpillar is ramping up the machinist side of operations as the foundation and flooring work is completed.

Caterpillar will hire up to 120 machinists, company officials have said.

“We prefer five or more years in experience with machinery, along with computer skills and blueprint reading, but we will hire entry-level positions for those with a two-year associate’s degree,” Unger said.

The crowded aisles looked good to Keith Grandberry, chief executive and president of the Urban League.

Grandberry preaches to people seeking employment and job-training assistance that they “have to create opportunities for themselves because it’s still a very tough job market.”

“It’s not hard to encourage employers to come to our career fair because they know many of the job seekers here have gone through our program this week and may be better qualified than those they see at a typical job fair,” Grandberry said.

That’s what Cynthia Moir said she’s counting on in finding a health care counseling job. She worked 26 years for Forsyth Medical Center before taking another job in April. The new job, however, fell through, dumping her into the job market.

“The Urban League taught me how to better present myself, brand myself, sell myself to employers,” Moir said. “I’ve already made three good contacts for next week, so I am on cloud nine about my chances of getting hired.”