A year ago, Junior Achievement of West Central Florida wanted to hire a half-dozen young workers to help with its STEM program, which promotes education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Junior Achievement found its solution through a "virtual" job fair, an online-only, weeklong event that steered young job seekers to local companies that were hiring.
"All six (hires) came through the job fair," said Jackie Skyrd of WorkNet Pinellas, a job training and placement agency, which organized the event. "(JA) was so pleased. Those kids were of major importance to the program."
Now, JA and potentially more than 100 other employers are back for another round.
From May 15 to May 21, WorkNet Pinellas is hosting another virtual job fair targeting young workers ages 14 to 24. Any businesses interested in advertising open positions — including summer internships, part-time or full-time work — are urged to post details at vjf.worknet pinellas.org. Once the event goes live next week, job seekers will be able to submit their resumes responding to specific openings.
It's tough all over in the job market, but particularly harsh for younger job seekers. Nationally, the unemployment level for those ages 16 to 19 was 24.5 percent in March, almost three times the U.S. unemployment rate of 8.8 percent. (Tampa Bay's unemployment rate is currently 11 percent.)
Companies tend to price job experience at a premium. But Ed Peachey, president and CEO of WorkNet Pinellas, says young workers have something to offer, as well: "Often energetic, technology-savvy, flexible to challenges and eager to learn, younger workers are a great fit for many employers' needs right now," he said.
Organizers are still early in the process of adding employers to the program. So far, companies planning to participate include Sweetbay Supermarket, Denny's Restaurants, Innisbrook Resort, DoubleTree and several businesses in manufacturing and health care, Skyrd said, along with Tampa Bay area public school districts and colleges.
During last year's virtual fair, about 1,500 job seekers sent in targeted resumes to about 125 employers advertising more than 200 jobs. This year, the goal is to offer at least 300 job openings.
And the territory of available jobs is being expanded, as well. Last year was confined to Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. This year, the fair will reach a total of six counties, with Pasco, Hernando, Sarasota and Manatee counties added to the mix.