By Janel Sullivan/Contributing Writer
The lobby of the Fulton War Memorial was crowded with job seekers even before the job fair’s 11:00 a.m. start Wednesday morning. With 128 people pre-registering and many more walk-ins, and with unemployment in the county hovering stubbornly around 10 percent, it is no surprise the NYS Senate Career Fair sponsored by Senator Patty Ritchie keeps expanding.
As people filed into the gym Senator Ritchie met each person at the door, handing out information folders. She said it was important for her to greet people and hear their concerns, as well as thank all the vendors and employers.
Mike Carroll and Mike Taber were two of the many who entered with resumes in hand. Both seemed apprehensive about finding a job at the fair. “If only it were that easy,” said Carroll. But, both young professionals want to stay in the area and they’re willing to work to make that happen.
Ritchie said that, after listening to people in the last year, it’s clear that not only are people having a hard time finding a job but some employers are having a hard time finding qualified applicants. So, from Mutual of Omaha to United Healthcare, Eagle Beverage Company to local plumbers, roofers, and laborers unions, employers gathered in the gymnasium of the War Memorial to realize Senator Ritchie’s vision of bringing job seekers and employers together.
The senator said it was surprising to see people of different ages. Some recent college graduates, some looking for a career change, and others hoping to come out of retirement. “Some haven’t had to look for a job for 25 years,” Ritchie said.
One such person was John Bifera, a retired machinist looking to get back into the workforce since his wife lost her job as a cook at Birdseye. He came because Novelis was one of the featured employers, but stayed to speak with other companies as well. His wife came with him though both were of the opinion a machinist would find work before a cook.
On the other end of the age spectrum was Nick Runeare, a recent graduate looking for a job to get some experience in healthcare as he prepares for medical school. Runeare admitted it was a tough field to break into which is why he wants to get as much experience as possible.
People cycled through the room, talking to as many potential employers as possible. There were people such as Mahima Walter, who has a master’s degree in social work from Nazareth College. Walter is originally from Ithaca but wants to make a name for herself in her field in Oswego County.
Others were like Dennis Truax, former director of operations for the Continental Basketball Association, who was looking for a new opportunity. Truax had already been to 3 or 4 other job fairs and wants a job closer to home.
The event also provided resources to help job seekers. Theresa Slosek from Oswego Public Library Computing Center was there to raise awareness of their free services ranging from resume building to reviewing cover letters to help completing online applications. She was all smiles and excited to be able to aid people in their job search. “If somebody wanted to work,” Slosek said, observing the room, “if they came here they could get a job.”
After working the room, Carroll found himself speaking with “companies I’ve never thought of. [This] allows you to find places with open positions you normally wouldn’t consider.” He was excited to come away with an application for an open marketing position. Taber didn’t fare as well as his friend and remained less than optimistic. He was told to keep checking online for openings, which is good advice but counterproductive to the idea of a job fair, Taber felt.
Most job seekers relished the opportunity to see employers face to face rather than simply submitting online applications. Runeare said he preferred the job fair atmosphere to applying online where there’s no way to match a name to a face.
Paul Knieram, a recent graduate from SUNY Oswego with a degree in business administration, waited for more than 15 minutes to speak to representatives from Huhtamaki. He, like many others, attended job fairs before and, like many others, said he would keep attending these events and talking to as many different employers as possible. Knieram noted, “You can’t talk to a computer screen.”