Both job-hunters and employers looking for warm bodies to fill key positions seemed pleased with the Storm Lake Job Fair held Tuesday at the AEA building.
About 150 people showed up, hoping to hook up with open jobs or learn more about making themselves more marketable for careers. 15 took part in a first-time workshop designed to steer people into the training necessary to land high-demand, high-wage positions in the community.
"The proof will be in the pudding," reflects Dan Anderson, center director for Iowa Central Community College and a presenter for the Job Fair. "If we hear a couple of months down the line that our employers have hired some of these people they were able to connect with, this will be very worthwhile."
Organizers of the Job Fair note that losing a workforce office in Storm Lake has been a setback. Efforts to come up with a local replacement for the state job services program have met with limited success, so innovation is needed to help employers fill their open positions, and help those who need to find employment.
The Job Fair was in part timed in hopes of reaching students while they are on holiday break and home from college. In a setting where they can talk to a lot of potential employers at one time, they can learn a lot that they will be able to use in applying for jobs at graduation time, Anderson said. A few may land internships from the connections they made Tuesday.
After the Job Fair, the organizers said that it is obvious that the field people are going into makes all the difference.
"There seems to be a lot more supply than demand in accounting, office and clerical work in the area. There are a lot of people in those fields who were really searching and hoping to find something," Anderson says. "On the other hand, in fields like mechanical, electrical, maintenance, fabrication, welding - employers are really looking to find people. That's where most of the local jobs are at right now."
One of the attendees at the Job Fair is a local student attending Iowa Central in the engineering/drafting program. Expecting just to learn about the job market, he found himself being offered good positions - and now must decide whether to complete his educational program, or grab the ripe, high-wage job in the community that might not be open when he graduates. "It's a good dilemma for a young person to have," Anderson says.
What advice do the Job Fair organizers have for people on the job hunt?
"The first thing is to decide what kind of career you want. What kind of job are you going to be happy doing - and do you have the academic capacity to learn that job? Then you need to decide where you want to live, and determine if that career is going to be available in that place. It has to be a good match between the person and the position," the ICCC director reflected.
The Storm Lake area is the protein capitol of the world, he added, with hog, turkey and chicken related industries, and in the foreseeable future, that is where a lot of the jobs will come from.
Anderson suggests that job hunters look up a career interest survey - such as the one offered free on the website mynextmove.com. Taking such a test can give some insight as to possible careers that match well with a person's abilities and interests.
The job hunter may also want to be open to the possibility of getting new training to make themselves more marketable to employers, Anderson suggests.
"Most of the high-demand jobs are in what we call 'middle skills' areas. They do not necessarily require a four-year college degree, but they are not jobs you can just walk in off the street and do, either. "There are short-term preparation programs to prepare people for high-demand jobs like nurses' aides, radiology, medical lab techs, industrial skilled positions. For example, there is great demand for welders right now, and programs available to teach those skills run from as short as a month to eight months."
There continues to be a demand for more registered nurses, and secondary teachers to replace a wave of high school educators hitting retirement age. While such careers require longer-term education, in Storm Lake people have the option to cobble together an academic program using Iowa Central and Buena Vista to meet their individual needs.
As educators adapt to meet changing needs in classroom and online education, learning has become a more flexible process.
"That's the magic," Anderson says. "As a college you have to have your finger on who is hiring, and create the courses that will provide the skills those careers are going to need now and some years down the road. Then you have to offer them in a way that's going to work for the people who need them.
"Many people here have to work a job just to feed their families, while they retool in hopes of finding a career they want. You have to have the classes they need in the morning, so people can study and still get to their current job in fast food by noon every day, and you have to offer them at night so a person can work their day job and still be able to study for some new skills."
Job searchers can't overlook the "soft skills" either, Anderson advises. "You will need the interviewing skills, resume building - although a lot of employers are willing to be flexible there for the person who has the right job skills. It's important to show that you are a person who has conflict resolution and team building skills, and that you know how to approach a boss or to give feedback to other employees."
Little things can make the difference on a job interview, Anderson notes.
"Don't bring your cell phone, and if you do bring it, for goodness sake, don't answer it during an interview. You would be surprised how many people lose out on jobs because of something like that."
While the Job Fair was created with the local major employers in mind, organizers are learning that they may need to think smaller.
"We learned something new. We had one gentleman who saw that we were having the Fair; he needed a full time farm hand, and asked if he could take part. He sent his daughter with a little display they had put together, and within about an hour, they had five or six good candidates," Anderson said. "This makes us think that we need to promote this Job Fair idea more, so that even the smallest business, if they are hiring just one employee, can participate."
Gary Lalone, CEO of Storm Lake United, said that he didn't see desperation among the job seekers at the event. Many of them already have jobs, but are on the lookout for a chance to better their situation.
"I can't begin to tell you how much better off we are here than in a lot of places," to have jobs available, Lalone said. "There is a midwest work ethic obviously at play too. People will find a job. It might not be exactly what they want, but they work it, until they find what they like."
He said that some of the Job Fair participants are students wondering what the job market will look like when they finish in May, high school students or graduates looking to work instead of pursue a college degree, or those who left school and pursued GED degrees/ "They are wondering, 'Where do we go from here?'"
The prototypical four-year college experience is no longer everyone's goal.
"There are those people who are figuring out what they want to do, and want to get the training now to get into the workplace. There are nice positions you can walk into with a year or two of specialized training and make $40,000 to $60,000 day one," Lalone says.