The odds of finding work in a 10 percent unemployment climate remain frustratingly long Friday for the 615 job seekers at the Winston-Salem Urban League's annual career fair.
But as they entered the gymnasium of Forsyth Technical Community College's West campus, their collective sense of optimism and hope was unmistakable.
Unlike many recent job fairs, in which the best outcome to be expected was a handshake and an exchanged resume, many of the 47 participating employers are actively hiring.
Those employers, including BB&T Corp., Caterpillar Inc., Inmar Inc., Pepsi Bottling Ventures LLC and RockTenn Co., are not looking for workers when and if the economy turns around. They say they need qualified applicants now.
That reality stoked Marcy Lucas' pursuit of a new information-technology or project coordinator job after a 10-month employment contract wasn't renewed. She said she was out of work for about a year before the contract job came along.
"I know there are jobs out there and that it's a matter of matching my skills and talents with the employers, and getting a chance to show them what I can do," Lucas said after speaking with Inmar recruiters.
Lucas said she has tried her best to stay optimistic in her job search "because otherwise it gets frustrating and draining."
"Even if there isn't a right fit with one employer here, maybe they have heard of other companies that are hiring that might be a fit," Lucas said.
The bulk of the job seekers ranged from their early 30s to late 60s, with a demographic mix leaning 50-50 in terms of race and sex.
David Coady, an Inmar recruiter, said the company has IT and customer-service job openings created by attrition and expansion.
The company committed in April to expanding in Winston-Salem, pledging to add 212 jobs and retain more than 700 employees. It said in July it was moving its headquarters to downtown by late 2013.
"We have between 10 and 12 openings now on our website, and that can fluctuate on a daily basis," Coady said. "We need tech expertise for the IT positions and some level of previous customer-service experience."
When asked the odds of Friday's job seekers eventually getting hired by Inmar, Coady stressed it was "pretty good."
"We have received, as you can imagine since the announcement, a huge number of applications," Coady said. "An online application is a must so we can track applicants.
"However, one of the reasons we come to these job fairs is because we tend to meet people who come cold to our booth. They may have many of the job skills we are looking for. That's why I always bring a notebook to write down those people who made a good impression on me."
RockTenn's Merchandising Displays division has about 30 job openings, many related to a new shift it has started in Winston-Salem, according to Tonya Chatwood, a human-resources coordinator. The company has more than 600 local employees after completing its acquisition of Smurfit-Stone earlier this year.
"Some of the jobs are those that have opened up because employees have been promoted," Chatwood said. "Qualified candidates for our entry-level jobs in many instances need a high-school diploma or a GED."
Chatwood said applicants will go through a series of five tests before getting an interview. The company's goal is to fill as many of the job openings as soon as possible, with some being hired by the end of the month.
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