A once-chilly job market in Ohio and the Toledo area may be showing signs of thawing for many job applicants.
In May, Ohio added 32,100 jobs — the most of any state and the largest job increase in Ohio in 14 years.
But for Toledo-area job seekers, a more telling sign that employers could be moving back into a hiring mode may be the increasing numbers of job fairs this year.
Michael Gruber, vice president of operations for The Right Thing Inc., a Findlay-based firm that does job recruitment for a variety of companies nationwide, said that in the last few years job openings and job fairs for highly skilled employees or professionals have been occurring somewhat regularly.
“But what we’ve noticed in the last few months is the job market is loosening up. A lot of employers are hiring at all levels, including the less-skilled employees,” Mr. Gruber said.
The increase in job fairs may suggest that employers recognize that as the economy continues to recover they need more lower-skilled, less-experienced employees, and job fairs are the best way to attract numerous applicants at one time, Mr. Gruber said.
“I would say there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of getting things back on track. But we’re seeing a lot of our clients across the country pick up in terms of lower-level hiring,” he added.
Since March, at least eight area job fairs have taken place, three of them general job fairs featuring a multitude of employers and five of them “targeted” job fairs sponsored by one company or a handful of firms in a specific industry.
On Tuesday, Stautzenberger College in Maumee is sponsoring a general job fair between noon and 4 p.m. on its campus. Forty employers are sending representatives to the event.
Another job fair is being organized for July 15 at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center at 3536 Secor Rd.
In addition, for the last two years The Source of Northwest Ohio, Lucas County’s one-stop resource for job seekers, has been holding a mini job fair the third Friday of every month that features a handful of employers in a specific industry segment, such as health care.
“I have noticed that there seems to be a bunch of [job fairs],” said Michael Veh, work-force development manager for The Source. “Usually you get the colleges and universities that will do job fairs in the spring because they’re looking for opportunities for their graduates.”
But this year there seems to be added job-fair activity, Mr. Veh added.
“I think there are more job openings. I’ve been saying that for a while because I try to be optimistic,” Mr. Veh said. “But it does seem like there’s an awful lot of activity going on in town. I mean, you have all these construction jobs available, and there’s a huge demand for truck driving, particularly over-the-road drivers.”
Pete Thomas, director of experiential learning and career services at the University of Toledo, said he’s seen a noticeable increase in the number of its graduates getting jobs right away.
The time it takes for recent graduates to get hired has been reduced, Mr. Thomas said, and the university has recorded a 13 to 15 percent increase in the number of its students getting jobs upon graduation.
The university has helped the process by holding several career fairs at its various schools this year. In March, for example, the university held a “targeted” job fair for nursing students at its Health Science Campus, formerly the Medical College of Ohio.
“Our contact for [job fairs] comes through our office electronically, and I have seen an exorbitant number of employers this year looking to hire our students. It’s been remarkable,” Mr. Thomas said.
At The Pinnacle in Maumee, dozens of job seekers filed into the popular banquet hall last Tuesday for a six-hour job fair sponsored by Buckeye CableSystem, which is owned by Block Communications Inc. of Toledo. The cable company was looking to fill openings in 16 job categories.
Leslie Bailey, director of operations for The Pinnacle, said Buckeye CableSystem’s job fair was the fourth one the banquet hall has hosted so far this year. It usually hosts one or two a year, she said.
“We’ve always had a few job fairs each year, but yes, there have been a few more here this year than in the past,” Ms. Bailey said.
Mr. Veh said the increase in job fairs was probably inevitable once hiring started to loosen.
“A lot of companies cut back on their [Human Resources departments] during the recession,” he said.
“If you’re doing dual duties, you may be doing more than just HR duties, and you don’t have time to sift through all these resumes coming in. So you hold a job fair,” Mr. Veh said.
“Besides, the way of looking for a job has changed. It used to be you called the number for the ad or you’d go to the company and apply. It doesn’t work that way anymore, but a lot of people still don’t get that,” Mr. Veh said.
Openings are mostly posted online now, at sites like Monster.com (toledoblade.com/monster) or Careerbuilder.com, and many companies hold job fairs as an interview process to judge some of the applications they received online, Mr. Veh said.
In May, the unemployment rates for Lucas County and Toledo rose to 8 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively, from 7.8 percent and 8.4 percent in April.
On the surface, those numbers would suggest that area employers are not doing more hiring locally.
But work-force experts have suggested that the rates increased because more jobless workers, sensing that there are more openings, have decided to actively look for jobs. Only people who are working or actively looking for jobs are considered part of the labor force.
Ron LaBeau, director of sales for Buckeye CableSystem, believes that to be correct; more jobless workers have decided to seek employment because they believe greater opportunities of getting a job now exist.
“We had some of that exact feedback from people that we were interviewing,” Mr. LaBeau said. “They too had noticed the trend that more of these [job] fairs are showcasing all of what a company is about and that all of the jobs within a company are now available. In fact, many people, we felt, were underselling themselves. That is, they were holding back their full experience and applying for lesser positions just so they could just get their foot in the door.”
Mr. LaBeau said Buckeye CableSystem was “very pleased” with the number and quality of applicants attending the job fair. “It was really surprising in that we had qualified candidates at all levels that we were recruiting,” he said.
Buckeye CableSystem’s job fair was one of the four “targeted” events held this year by a specific company seeking to fill an increase in openings. Art Van Furniture, Family Dollar, and Hollywood Casino Toledo are other firms that have held job fairs to fill employment needs.
Hollywood Casino, in fact, also participated in a general job fair in May at the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg.
John McNamara, a spokesman for the casino, said the operation has experienced normal attrition since it opened a year ago and needs to refill and adjust its staffing after monitoring a year’s worth of customer demand.
“When there’s job fairs, they’re publicized through the media channels, and you get a larger turnout of folks,” said Mr. McNamara, noting that the casino attracted 600 applicants for 60 job openings during its job fair last month at the casino.
“Plus, it’s always better to meet people in person,” he added.
Stautzenberger College will be holding its first ever Job Fair on Tuesday and is doing so for two reasons: to get its name out in the community and to give back to and thank area residents for supporting the occupational college, said Rob Garver, Stautzenberger director of career services.
The job fair is open to anyone in the Toledo area, he added.
Stautzenberger sent out invites to 50 employers and 40 agreed to attend — including nursing homes, animal hospitals, hotel chains, health-care companies, insurance firms, police departments, banks, real estate firms, and major retailers such as Macy’s, Cracker Barrel, Speedway, and Wal-Mart.
“The response was better than I anticipated,” Mr. Garver said.
“There is an opportunity for anyone who has great work ethic and has good skill that they can be placed” in a job, he said.
Contact Jon Chavez at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6128.