During the recession, unemployed people crammed career fairs only to find a handful of employers offering a smattering of independent contract or commission-only positions. On Tuesday at a big Kansas City job fair, there was a difference.
About 70 area employers put more “real” jobs on the table.
Some were part-time. Some were seasonal. Some were through staffing agencies. But some were the holy grail of job hunting: full time, with benefits.
Darrel Bowlin, an organizer of the JOBNewsKC Career Expo at Arrowhead, said attendance at the job fair rivaled headcounts during the recession. Nearly 1,000 were expected by day’s end. But, he said, “there are more professional-level positions being offered.”
In the recession, he said, employers offered a lot of commission-only jobs — that didn’t come with a guaranteed paycheck. Or, they sought to fill contract positions — that essentially left the worker self-employed.
“Now I’m seeing accountants, engineers,” Bowlin said. “Sure, there’s lots of entry-level and part-time, too, but there’s a different feeling overall.”
The feeling among both job seekers and employers at Tuesday’s job fair reflected the slightly better economic numbers seen recently.
Here and around the country, government and private reports are recording slow but steady declines in unemployment. The number of workers who are involuntarily working part time is also dropping.
On Tuesday, a federal poverty report noted an increase in year-round, full-time employment among adults, most notably those in households with children.
According to economists at the Mid-America Regional Council, the Kansas City area this summer logged its highest employment number since September 2008 — 1,017,000 payroll jobs. Year over year, that was an increase of just 10,600 jobs, not enough to proclaim a robust turnaround. But with a 6.2 percent unemployment rate, the region is doing better than was indicated earlier this year.
To be sure, many of the job vacancies promoted Tuesday at the Arrowhead job fair were still for temporary, seasonal or part-time hours. It’s a sign of the “new normal” job market.
There also were plenty of entry-level openings for $8 to $11 an hour. Even at full-time hours, hardly guaranteed for many of the jobs, that’s not sufficient to run a household.
But many of the job hunters at Arrowhead were fine with part-time or temporary work.
Jeremy Hudson, out of work for the last three months, found a likely job match Tuesday to do something that fits his needs exactly — temporary driving for FedEx Ground.
“I’m taking classes until May to get certificates in manufacturing skills and welding, so this is something I can work in around my classes,” Hudson said of the $10-an-hour job he intended to pursue. “I drove once before and don’t mind the travel.”
Outside the event, cars filled the parking lot between the football and baseball facilities for one of the area’s largest job fairs this year. Some attendees arrived “dressed for success,” others in athletic gear or jeans.
Inside, employers publicized a heavy dose of retail and logistics work available, given that they’re gearing up for their big fourth-quarter retail sales and shipping season.
April Schiffelbein, general manager of a Cabela’s store, was hiring seasonal workers for now through January. She said retail experience was preferred but not necessary. About half the people who stopped at her table were a possible fit for the work, she said.
“It’s frustrating that a lot of them don’t come prepared to talk” to the employer, Schiffelbein said. “Sometimes we sort of have to coach them through. One guy had his underwear showing.”
C.J. Sharp, on the other hand, wore a coat and tie. Sharp said he’d been looking for “a better job, a career, something to better my life” for about a year. He’d been to several job fairs and realized the importance of a good first impression.
“I used to do stand-up comedy, and one time another guy and I were competing for a job in Branson,” Sharp said. “He was funnier than I was, but I got the job because they said I was dressed up and he just had on khaki shorts.”
Sharp said he was attracted to the Aflac table and might pursue an insurance agent job because “I like talking to people, and it’s a job level where you could actually survive.”
Several job hunters said they needed more than part-time, entry-level wages and were frustrated that full-time jobs with benefits were not available at many of the tables.
Other job hunters discounted full-time jobs that simply weren’t their cup of tea.
At the Signature Flight Support table, manager Joe Behling told possible applicants about the three positions his ground crew and building management company has open at the downtown Wheeler Airport.
The jobs start at $11 an hour or $15 an hour, depending on the position, and require night and weekend flexibility in scheduling, especially for new hires, Behling said. “That’s a barrier for some, and some people hear that they have to work outside and say, ‘That’s not for me.’”
Standing apart before she waded into the crowd, Leesa Gavin of Holden, Mo., said she found the size of the event a bit overwhelming. Out of work since May, Gavin said she had been taking temporary jobs since then but was trying to find a full-time position in office support for general contractors or construction companies.
“Unfortunately, I’m not seeing that here yet,” Gavin said.
Jasmine Gustin, on the other hand, found exactly the kind of job she intended to pursue.
“I’m interested in retail and customer service,” said Gustin, who lives in Kansas City, Kan. “And so far here I’ve found good opportunities at Suburban Lawn & Garden and at Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse.”
Gustin’s eyes lit up about the Broadway Shoe job particularly. She said it starts at just $8 an hour, but there were “whispers” of full-time hours, and health and eye care benefits were offered.
Many of the employers reported seeing a large number of women who were trying to re-enter the job market after taking time out to care for children. The Women’s Employment Network, which helps with re-entry, sponsored an advice table.
The overall impression from both applicants and employers: It’s hard to find a good match between what the employer wants and what the job hunters have in abilities, experience and interest.
Sadly, at least one recruiter boldly assessed the job-hunting crowd: “About half came dressed, looking professional, or at least employable. And half, probably not.”