TAMPA — Bryce Booth didn’t know he might be interested in working for the Pinellas County school district.
The 34-year-old military veteran walked into a job fair at Steinbrenner Field on Thursday looking for a career that makes him happy, rather than the sales position he’s held lately. He visited booths for Massey Services Pest Control and Mister Sparky Electric.
Then school district recruiters Joseph “Jay” Noelien and Andrea Schannen captured Booth’s attention.
As Pinellas County’s largest employer, they told him, the school system has all types of work, from mechanic to bus driver to teacher. And these days, like other districts across Florida and the nation, “we have tons of jobs available,” Noelien said.
Hence their attendance at the event in Tampa on a Thursday morning. Getting potential candidates to show an interest — even if just a handful — represents a step toward better serving students and their families, who lately have seen late bus rides, long cafeteria lines, unstaffed classes and more, they said.
“There are people coming in. This is good,” Noelien said, surveying the large room lined with recruiting tables for other area employers.
Schannen told Booth about the possibilities of becoming a teacher through alternative certification, an idea that intrigued the Gibsonton resident. Pinellas has dozens of full-time teaching vacancies, along with an ongoing need for substitute teachers that prompted the district to temporarily boost its substitute pay by $50 a day.
“It never really crossed my mind,” Booth said. “I thought about teaching but never knew how to get to that point.”
He gave the recruiters a resumé, filled out an online contact form and moved to the next stop.
Schannen noted that many of the job seekers didn’t know the broad range of employment opportunities the district has open. One woman with an accounting background smiled and said, “I’m not a teacher,” as Schannen beckoned. An older man looking to get out of management but still wanting full-time employment shrugged and told Noelien, “I don’t think there’s anything that fits me.”
In reality, the district had plenty. After offering a well-practiced pitch on the options, Noelien convinced the older man to take his card and think about driving a bus.
Other more certain hopefuls headed to a computer station in the back of the room, where they filled out applications for much-needed cafeteria and bus assistant positions. Some expressed disappointment that they couldn’t get a job on the spot.
“I guess I’ve got to go back to the internet” to complete the process, said Terry Harmer, a 56-year-old St. Petersburg resident who recently left her job at a day care and hoped to leave the fair employed. “I need health insurance and I need room to grow.”
But the school district couldn’t move that fast on Thursday, Schannen said. “We’re dealing with students. We have to do background checks and we have to make sure the people are wanting to be with our kids.”
That made sense to Jennifer Beagle, a teacher who moved to the area a month ago after 13 years in the Cayman Islands. She already had submitted her application to the Pinellas district online, but wanted to attend the job fair to meet someone in person.
“Online feels so distant,” said Beagle, 43, explaining that it’s easier to get the sense of what an organization is like from the people in it. “I like the vibe.”
Because of low attendance at Thursday’s event, every person who approached the recruiters got plenty of personalized attention and advice. Noelien encouraged everyone to submit an application, even if they’re only remotely interested, as different jobs pop up frequently and once in the system they would be closer to employment.
Plus, he said, the district would have more people to potentially call on to fill its needs. These days, it’s not so easy to get workers for some of the important jobs, he observed, mentioning as an example how his local IHOP restaurant no longer stays open 24 hours daily because it can’t find enough cooks and servers.
So the recruiters didn’t fret the slow trickle of visitors during the four-hour event, one of many the district has attended in search of employees. Rather, they cheered every individual who showed up and signed the interest form or completed the application.
“That means we didn’t have that person before,” Noelien said, calling it a step in the right direction.
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