Job seekers flock to career fair

Published 9:08 am Friday, January 29, 2010

FRANKLIN—More than 1,100 people searching for new jobs attended a career fair at the Paul D. Camp Community College Regional Workforce Development Center on Wednesday.

“It’s a great day,” Judy Begland, president and CEO of Opportunity Inc. of Hampton Roads, said Wednesday. “We have probably had around 1,100 folks here. We’ve been very excited about the level of interest.”

Opportunity Inc., a regional workforce organization based in Norfolk, organized and set up the event, officially named the “International Paper and Western Hampton Roads Job Fair.” The fair ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and showcased 42 prospective employers.

“The employers have been very impressed and pleased with the quality of the candidates — their culture, their work ethic and the way they present themselves,” Begland said.

It was the second job fair at the center in as many months. On Dec. 2, a Manufacturing Career Fair — sponsored by the three unions at the mill, IP, PDCCC, Opportunity Inc. and the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce — drew 500 job seekers, most of whom were IP employees.

Alan Lowe, a pipefitter from Gatesville N.C. with 23 years at the mill, spoke highly of Wednesday’s event. Lowe attended the previous job fair, too.

“It was really good, I really enjoyed it,” Lowe said, adding that he spoke with at least four potential employers. “They had a lot of people there today, different people that weren’t there last time. They had it set up a lot better. You could see who was in each booth, and you had a chance to go up and mingle, talk to them and see what they had available.”

Jerry Cale, an electrician from Carrsville who has worked at the mill for 37 years, was also impressed with the job fair.

“It went very well,” Cale said. “It was a good opportunity to see a lot of different companies, especially anybody dealing with technologies. Being a craft person like myself, I’m looking to do some work with my hands.”

Employers varied in size, location and area of business but were impressed by the job candidates they met.

Debera Taylor, human resource director for Mercury Paper Inc., said the Strasburg-based company came to the job fair looking to hire 10 to 25 people for positions at a 406,000-square-foot converting plant being built in Winchester.

“We’re looking for folks with a background in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering,” Taylor said. “We have found a lot of good, qualified candidates here today, and we’re definitely finding the quality of people coming from International Paper with the same skill set that we’re looking for at our facility.”

Taylor said the company is looking to hire 130 workers total by mid-June and a total of 250 to 275 by the end of the fourth quarter in 2011.

Lynne Charles, associate human resources manager for Kraft Foods Inc., was also pleased by the turnout. Her company is looking to hire four machine operators and a couple of maintenance technicians for its facilities in Suffolk.

“All of them have had their safety training,” Charles said of the job seekers she met. “A lot of what we need is already built in when we hire them. We’re pleased about that. It seems like a very well-qualified, mature group of applicants. A lot of them have 20 years-plus (experience). We’re going to take a look at their resumes, schedule interviews and bring them back in, get more in-depth information from them.”

Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding of Newport News was looking to hire pipefitters, shipfitters, maintenance and material support workers, according to Faye Ewan, recruiter for hourly trades.

“We have seen some excellent skill sets, especially from the International Paper folks,” said Ewan, who estimated that she spoke to about 110 job seekers on Wednesday. “We are well pleased with the caliber of people we have seen today.”

Ewan added, “We have also seen some people who have no skills who are looking for jobs. We are happy to consider them for employment and train them. We have an apprentice school where we train people and they can get a degree.”

Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Ewan said, would look to hire electricians, sheet metal workers and painters later in the year. The company was looking to hire a total of 2,000 workers, she said.

Not all of the job seekers were current or former IP employees.

Stephen Hypes, a 23-year-old resident of Franklin who graduated in May from Radford University, was looking for a job in information technology, his major at school.

“It’s kind of hard to find a job right now,” Hypes said. “It’s good that they have (job fairs) in the area. At Radford, we had a couple job fairs every semester.”

Begland said Opportunity Inc. is planning a resource fair in early March for families and is considering organizing another job fair in April.

“There is interest and there is opportunity, so we should try and do it again,” Begland said.