Thursday, April 26, 2018
Business

St. Petersburg job fair draws hundreds

The lines are still long.

The recession officially ended 31/2 years ago. Tampa Bay's unemployment rate has fallen from the double-digits to 8.1 percent — below 8 percent in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The bay area leads the state in adding jobs.

Yet on Tuesday morning, a line of roughly 200 job seekers stretched around the perimeter of the Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg, waiting for the job fair doors to open.

Among them was Joseph Celic, who's been searching for a truck driver opening since he was among a group of drivers laid off in the summer of 2009. Celic, 51, has had stints as an independent driver and clerking at a Sunoco since then, but his quest to get back to over-the-road hauling has fallen short.

Though he has his trucking license, he got recertified in 2010 to improve his odds. He figures he's filled out 500 to 600 applications. "Talk about frustrating," he said.

Richard Waterman one-upped him. He estimates he's submitted nearly 1,000 applications, half of them within the first year of being laid off from a data processing job at Derby Lane in 2006.

This past year, he's been working part time on the weekends as an organist while seeking another part-time job Monday through Friday that won't overlap.

"When you hear the job market is improving, who is it improving for?" said Celic, 59. "They will take the 22-year-old out of college even with no experience over me. … They can't discriminate by age legally, but they look at the numbers on my resume and say, 'This guy is no spring chicken.' "

Both Celic and Waterman reject the government unemployment numbers as misleading. "I'm not included in the numbers," Waterman said, "I don't exist."

One broader measure of unemployment, commonly called underemployment, includes part-time workers seeking full-time jobs and those who have temporarily given up looking for work. Florida's underemployment rate is over 16 percent.

Bridget Mulholland, who has lived in St. Petersburg for 30 years, thinks economic recovery still has a long way to go.

"It used to be easy to get a job. I could sit in a restaurant and just be offered a job," said Mulholland, who was searching for work as either a hairdresser or a medical assistant. "Now you have to just keep looking."

Kristina Pein, who was recruiting for transportation firm ReedTMS Logistics, said she was shocked at the turnout and hoped she had enough handouts and business cards to spare. It was a good problem for her, though, since Reed is ramping up hiring.

"We'd hire 50 drivers if we could find them," she said. "We have more freight (to ship) than we know what to do with."

Celic, the out-of-work truck driver, gave Pein his resume and his job pitch. "This sounds great," he said.

The Tampa Bay Times organized the job fair.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242.

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