At this job fair, older workers waited for employers to visit
by Michael Kinsman
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Green, a recruiter for Elite Show Services, found five people she wanted to hire on the spot and 10 to 15 potential job candidates.
"I couldn't believe how easy it was," says Green, whose company provides security services at events. "There were so many good candidates."
This wasn't your typical job fair in which employers set up booths and job seekers browse to see if they are a good fit. At this "reverse" job fair at the Metro Career Center in San Diego, job seekers 55 and older stood by while employers approached them to check job qualifications and to talk.
The event was put on by Community Options, a federally funded group that has a program to help low-income older people with job training and placement, and by the Oasis Institute, a private nonprofit organization partially funded by a grant from AT&T that helps older individuals with career and education opportunities.
The program was designed to help older workers find employment so they won't have to rely on social programs as they age.
"We really wanted to try something different," says Charlotte Tenney, a Community Options senior employment counselor who came up with the idea of having employers approach individuals. "We thought it might make a difference to teach job candidates how to sell themselves to the employer."
About 50 older workers participated in the event, along with 20 employers. Tenney had identified 75 senior workers to participate in January, but 25 of them found jobs before the fair.
"We found out that these people needed a lot of help to prepare for this," Tenney says. "A lot of them have been out of work for a long time and needed to learn how to market themselves."
Community Options and Oasis teamed up to coach the workers on job-search skills and some personal computer training over a four-month period so they would qualify for a variety of jobs.
"We found that every question a potential employer asked is the same question: 'Why should I hire you?' " Tenney says. "These people needed to learn how to answer that."
The real challenge was to first make older workers feel worthy of jobs so they could put their best feet forward.
Janet Perkins, who has been out of the work for 2 1/2 years, said she has struggled with how to convince employers that a 63-year-old woman was worth hiring.
"They look at your age and think you're only going to work two years and then retire," she says. "That's not the way it is. I want to continue working as long as I can. I have no intention of retiring. I've learned that I have to tell employers that to have a chance at a job."
Maria Elena Pace, a recruiter for Hilton Hotels, was impressed by the job candidates and the way the "reverse job fair" worked.
"This was a great way to efficiently evaluate job candidates," Pace says. "If this is a buy-in, I'm sold."
University of California San Diego outreach counselor Janet Loomis also was impressed. She said it was easier to identify potential workers for some of the 200 UCSDjob openings by meeting them in person.
"We get 100 resumes per job, but it's hard to find good workers just off a resume," Loomis says. "Here, if I found someone I didn't think was going to work for us, I'd just move to the next one. I will definitely be following up with a number of these people."
One job seeker, Ron Roberts of La Mesa, Calif., felt better about his chances of landing a job after participating in the job fair.
Roberts has been out of work for 2 1/2 years because of a health condition and said the job fair allowed him to explain to employers that he needs a part-time position because of his three-times-a-week dialysis.
"It's hard to find something part time, but when employers hear why you want that, they seem OK with it," Roberts says. "I guess we'll find out."
Though the number of people participating in this job fair was small, that doesn't detract from the program's value. These are people who want and need jobs and who would become public liabilities if they don't find work.