A lawmaker who hosted a five-hour jobs fair at the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay said seeing hundreds of jobseekers lined up deep into the hotel parking lot hit close to home.
“I have family that could be in this line. So in my mind, it is very personal to me,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas.
The jobs fair attracted 64 companies offering everything from high tech positions to more entry-level jobs in manufacturing and fast food. About 1,700 jobseekers attended in total, and Herrera stayed outside in the parking lot to greet them.
The congresswoman said the idea for the jobs fair came while she attended a roundtable in August with Clark County businesses that had job openings but weren’t able to find qualified candidates.
“Rather than wait on an act of Congress, (I said), why don’t we try and get as many people in a room who are looking with people who have positions available?” said Herrera Beutler. “Hopefully, we’ll have some success stories.”
Dressed in everything from suits to T-shirts, the jobseekers represented a wide cross section of ages, ethnicities, and work experience. According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, Clark County’s unemployment rate in August was 10.2 percent. Some of those unemployed in line were new to the job market, while others held resumes reflecting decades of experience.
Vancouver’s Ashley Gissler, 21, had recently completed a four-year stint working as a server at Red Lobster and had only been looking for work for a few days. She didn’t have a particular kind of job in mind, but was open to something new.
“I’m optimistic,” she said.
On the other hand, Gissler’s aunt, Melissa Snuffin, 46, also of Vancouver, was getting back in the job hunt after being out of work for a year. This was her first job fair. Snuffin, who has experience in retail, said she has had to adjust to a job search process that is far less personal than it was when she first started her career.
“In the past, I never really had to do a process like this where you are creating your resume and everything is online,” Snuffin said. “Before, when I was younger, you’d just go to the place of employment and talk to the manager and fill out an application. So this is a learning experience for me, too.”
Sharee Toliver recently relocated to Vancouver after cooking for 30 years in casinos in Nevada. She learned to cook in kitchens that might serve many thousands of patrons during a busy weekend.
“Everything from cooking a hamburger to cooking lobster for a banquet,” said Toliver, 49. “You have a 10-minute ticket time, and you can get 100 tickets in at the same time. That’s cooking.”
Despite her experience, Toliver says that even well-known fast food chains in the Vancouver area weren’t hiring. She and fellow casino veteran Buck Hill, 52, were in line hoping to apply with the Hilton Hotel and the Red Lion.
“When you cook in a casino, you have to be versatile,” Hill said. “Ready for everything.”
One challenge for job seekers was that while businesses were hiring, they were often looking for specialized skills. For example, Hazel Dell-based ACS Group needed employees experienced with business analysis, software programming, and software quality control. Con-Way Freight was hiring drivers, but only those with appropriate licensing.
Steve Jones, a manager with the Longview-based heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor Entek Corp, was more flexible. He says business is booming and he needs qualified technicians as soon as possible. Though he would prefer applicants with experience, he’ll train someone with even a basic mechanical education. Jones said an experienced HVAC technician can make between $60,000 and $80,000 a year and Entek treats its employees well.
“If I could find three HVAC techs, I would put them in a van tomorrow,” Jones said.
Back outside, still shaking hands and conversing with job seekers in line, Herrera Beutler said she was pleased with the response from the business community. Initially, she had hoped maybe twenty companies might get involved.
But while there was good news that employers were hiring, the long lines demonstrated to Herrera Beutler just how far Clark County has to go to recover economically.
“We need jobs,” she said.
~ Scott Thompson
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