Thursday, February 22, 2018
Business

Tampa job fair remains needed for those still searching

TAMPA

Rosibel Pineda thought she was entering an "in-demand" industry when she graduated in June with a medical assistant degree from Keiser University.

More than three weeks and 30 applications later, she's still on the hunt for any job in the medical field or customer service.

"Online, they all say you need a year or two years of experience. But how do you get it? … The job market is still tough," Pineda, 27, said while visiting booths at a job fair Wednesday morning in Tampa.

Long after the official end of the Great Recession, Tampa Bay's economic recovery remains in the eye of the jobholder. Or job seeker. And from the vantage point of hundreds who flocked to the fifth annual job fair coordinated by state Rep. Janet Cruz, that recovery is still elusive.

"Let's get to work. Find a job today. Go on in there!" Cruz said to applause as the fair began at 10 a.m.

About 50 people had lined up in the corridors before the auditorium doors opened at Higgins Hall, 5225 N Himes Ave. Based on turnout by midday and past events, organizers estimated total daylong attendance may have topped 1,000.

Cruz said the turnout was the largest she's seen, even bigger than at the height of the recession. Part of that could be because of strong publicity. But Cruz also attributed it to higher jobless rates in her House District 62, a swath of Hillsborough County with high Latino and African-American populations, both of which have high unemployment rates, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

In the bay area, the unemployment rate was about 6.3 percent as of June, still too high to signify a healthy economy but far improved from its double-digit doldrums. "For Hispanics," Cruz said, "unemployment's at 7.8 percent."

The job fair was promoted by Univision, among other sponsors, and included numerous Spanish-speaking job opportunities among the nearly 100 employers and educational outlets that had set up booths.

The only stipulation for employers, Cruz said, is that they must be actively hiring. That's a far cry from a few years ago, when employers were primarily referring candidates to their websites for future openings. But it doesn't mean the odds have shifted in favor of workers.

"We get 200 applications in two days for every call center opening," said Margaret Bottiger of Grow Financial Federal Credit Union, which was seeking to fill 25 openings at its call center, area branches and its newest location in South Carolina.

Education, skills and training are still the chief differentiators in finding work.

At Gulf Marine's job fair booth, staffing manager Doug Sernka was recruiting up to 50 welders and other ship-repair workers. Aging fleets, he said, have been good for business.

New hires need some basic welding experience, but Gulf Marine is willing to invest in training them to bolster expertise. Pay scales range from $12 to $30 an hour, depending on skill level and expertise.

"If we have a qualified applicant and they pass their weld test, we'll put them to work tomorrow," Sernka said.

Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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