Shortly after he was laid off from his management position with home builder TaylorMorrison in January, Robert Goodfellow was asked about his future by his daughter, Anita Kay.
"Dad," Goodfellow recalled the 15-year-old saying. "What do you do now?"
The father replied first with a "Honey," then with the hard advice: "The first thing you need to know when you're fired and finding a job is that is your job."
On Monday, Goodfellow, 52, was hard at work.
The husband and father of two put his hopes, or at least a small part of them, in the Tampa Bay Job Fair at the St. Pete Times Forum.
But with Tampa Bay's unemployment rate at nearly 6 percent, the highest since 1994, Goodfellow didn't expect to emerge from the fair with a new career. "I'm mostly here for networking," he said.
The number of potential employers who showed up to the St. Petersburg Times-sponsored event was telling.
Dave LaBell, the event's director and a Times' audience development administrator, said this year, 45 employers set up booths — down from the 58 employers who attended last July and half the number in past job fairs when the bay area was on a hiring spree.
That didn't bode well for Monday's 3,000 job seekers, who ranged from former managers in business suits to teenagers in shorts and T-shirts.
Despite the archways of ribbon and rainbow-colored balloons draping above the red-carpeted Forum floor, for some, the event was hardly a day to celebrate.
As Carmen Ayala waited to get her resume evaluated, the 29-year-old vented her frustrations to the stranger next to her in line.
"I'm so over these job fairs," Ayala said. "It's just frustrating when you do something like this and do all you can and nothing happens."
Ayala, who has been unemployed since January, said being jobless for so long has been one of the most frustrating experiences of her life. Partly, she says, because it is difficult for her to apply.
"It's hard for some of us who don't have a computer," she said. "Why do they even do these fairs when all they say is, 'go online, go apply online!'"
And with so many people looking for jobs, and so few employers — ranging from auto sales chains to IT support companies — accepting actual printed resumes, it's no wonder that staffing company owner Dwight Lankford was continuously surrounded Monday morning.
His company, A Better Choice staffing, which supplies home health care and other medical service workers, welcomes folks with old-fashioned paper resumes. And in one-on-one sessions with potential applicants, Lankford said he understands their frustrations.
"So many people have been saying, 'I'll take what I can get,'" he said. "It's tough right now."
But even the laid-off manager, Goodfellow, with mounting credit card debt and his 4-year-old son, Ian, in a pricey children's hospital awaiting throat surgery, is holding out for his break — a fresh career start in his 50s.
"I was in the homebuilding industry, which is gone. I was forced into finding a new career," Goodfellow said. "But this is America. I feel that if you work hard, you'll succeed. It's only a matter of time."