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Job fair offers hope, and perhaps employment

(ran NTP edition)

Everyone has a certain talent; they just may not know how to tap into it for success.

That was the philosophy behind a recent job fair at Safe Haven, near the University of South Florida. The process of finding a job can be an intimidating one, and sharpening job skills can become secondary to trying to get dinner on the table.

But these prospective employers brought hope.

"If somebody is a seamstress and is good with her hands, she already has assembly experience _ she just doesn't know it," said Celeste Stewart, an account manager for Spartan, a job service and staffing company.

Spartan was one of more than a half-dozen companies who wooed potential employees at Wednesday's job fair, which was sponsored by Tampa's Centre for Women. Participating companies included Norrell, Top Talent and Spartan staffing agencies; Special Data Processing; Coastal Wipers; Teletech; and Physicians Healthcare Plans.

Dozens of nearby residents and students of the Brewster Tech Center milled around the display tables, filling out applications and feeling out the possibility of getting a job.

"You'd be surprised how many people have low self-esteem," Stewart said, "and don't know they're good at things." For example, she said, "if you have children, you've been organizing things."

That sounded encouraging to Mattie McDaniel, 38, who was looking for a job after being unemployed for the past six months.

McDaniel, who is raising two teenagers, said she wasn't picky. "I'll be a cashier, if necessary," she said as she began filling out the paperwork at Spartan's table.

At the next table, Coastal Wipers general manager John Fletcher encouraged an applicant to visit the manufacturing company's facility, to see if she might be comfortable working there. His requirements were simple: "We just ask them to be willing to work."

For some applicants, pushed into the work force by welfare reform, the concept of a full-time job is a new one. "The government is saying, this is it. You've got to go back to work," said Brewster instructor Roland Garcia. "It's a sad situation, because many people will not hire them because of lack of skills."

So, increasingly, area residents have been coming to Brewster Tech, Garcia said, for its two-week job search program. "A big problem here is lack of skills," he said. "Typing skills or education."

Staffing recruiter Chris Patterson agreed.

"It's a whole life change," said Patterson, who works for Norrell. "They've never had to be anywhere at any certain time."

Another big issue for university area residents is transportation. The state is providing former welfare recipients with free Hartline bus rides for the first six months of a new job. And employers who hire people off the welfare rolls get a tax break.

Area resident Letric Chatman, 21, paused in front of Top Talent's cheerful banner, which depicted a top hat, magician's wand and stars. As she reached for an application, she was honest about what attracted her. "That banner," she said. She needs a job because "I'm taking care of myself."

If you have a story about University North, call Amy Herdy at 226-3465.