Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 5, 2013

Hunting for jobs

Job fair brings in 68 percent fewer people this year

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— Nicholas Brown moved from Las Vegas to Kokomo in January to find work because he was told the job market is better here.

“There’s more jobs here, believe it or not,” he said.

That doesn’t mean finding a full-time position in the City of Firsts has been a walk in the park, he said.

For nearly four months, he’s been applying for jobs to no avail.

So he decided to try his luck Thursday at the Spring Job Fair hosted by Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University Kokomo.

Brown sat at a table and slowly filled out applications for Target, Wabash National and Senior Helpers.

He wasn’t alone. By 11 a.m., more than a dozen people sat at tables scattered throughout the Ivy Tech Event and Conference Center and filled out applications for one or more of the 76 regional employers at the job fair.

About 480 other people — donning dresses, dress pants, button-downs, ties and sometimes suit jackets — asked employers questions and handed out resumes.

That doesn’t compare to last year’s numbers, though.

Last year, there was a line snaking to the event center parking lot well before the event even started. And the four-hour job fair drew in about 1,500 job seekers.

That amounts to a 68 percent decrease in job seekers this year.

“I don’t want to sound disappointed there weren’t long lines,” said Michelle Simmons, vice chancellor for student affairs for the Ivy Tech Kokomo region. “It shows that people are back to work. This could be a sign that the economy is rebounding. That’s a positive thing for the community.”

But Indiana Department of Workforce Development statistics show that unemployment rates for Howard County actually went up since last year’s job fair.

The latest data showed Howard County’s unemployment rate at 10.2 percent in February of this year. At the same time last year, that rate was 9.6 percent.

Simmons said there also may have been fewer job seekers this year because some of the area’s largest employers didn’t attend.

Both Chrysler and Delphi opted out of the job fair this year even though they were present last year. There were more retailers including Target, Menards and Maurice’s this time around, Simmons said.

Target joined the event for the first time.

“We’re looking to be a positive presence in the community,” said Tiffany Payne, who works in human resources for the company.

And she wanted to raise awareness about the positions available within the company.

A steady flow of people stopped by her booth to chat and ask questions. That’s a good thing, she said.

“People probably think Target is just for cashiers, but we have lots of different positions,” she said. “We have leadership positions at the Kokomo store.”

Brown said he would be applying for a job there. He also applied for an assembly line job at Wabash National and for a caregiver position at Senior Helpers.

While he showed no interest in a job at Community Howard Regional Health, many others did Thursday.

Lines formed at the booth as job seekers contended for a few minutes’ time with job recruiters.

Professional Recruiter Lynn Taylor said she hadn’t received many serious inquiries throughout the morning.

The hospital has about 100 positions available, she said. There are openings for respiratory therapists, nurses and housekeepers among others.

That’s not really what people were looking for, though.

“It seems like today we’ve had a lot of people interested in administrative positions and maintenance positions,” she said.

Ryan Robinson just wanted to start working full time.

He’s a certified welder and has experience in mechanics, he said.

Robinson said he’s been working with a temporary staffing agency that’s been able to find him work off and on.

“Right now I’m doing what I have to do to get by,” he said. “It’s hard. You don’t know if you’re going to have a job today ... next week.”

He put his application in at Wabash National in Lafayette. He said he was hopeful, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up too much.

Peru resident Matt Smith said he, too, was vying for a job at Wabash National.

He’s been out of work for four months. He goes to WorkOne every week to get help, but so far, nothing has panned out.

Even if Wabash National doesn’t call him for an interview, the job fair will still be a success, he said.

Smith filled out an application to become a volunteer for Emmaus Mission Center in Logansport. He plans to volunteer at the mission’s thrift store.

“It always looks good to have that on your resume,” he said. “It’s something that will show a sparkle in you.”

And the not-for-profit could always use a little extra help, he said, with a smile.

Brown smiled, too, as he finished filling out his applications. It felt good to get that much accomplished, he said.

He said spirits seemed to be high for many at the event.

“Hope is really moving around here,” he said.

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