Hungry For Opportunity, Hundreds Flock To Maywood Job Fair

Screenshot 2014-06-02 at 12.33.51 AM
Job-seekers form a line outside of Mariella’s that snakes around the block. (Photo courtesy Sylvia Rodrygues).

Monday, June 2, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

Friday, MAYWOOD–Job-seekers from Maywood and surrounding communities such as Bellwood, Berkeley, Forest Park, and Franklin Park convened at Mariella’s Banquets on Friday for a job fair hosted by Mayor Edwenna Perkins. A line of eager prospects snaked around the block before doors opened at 10 AM.

According to Princess Dempsey, who owns PI Management, the event planning firm that put the fair together at no charge, there were 80 vendors that showed up; 15 had to be turned away due to a lack of space.

In addition to potential employers, vendors also included TCF Bank, which offered free savings and checking accounts to attendees; the constituent services office of Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, which offered job-hunting tips and marketed a fair that Rep. Welch will be hosting on June 14th; and the Peace Corps, which offered recruits the opportunity to travel overseas on volunteer missions.

“I did this for free,” Dempsey said. “When the Mayor reached out, the community was saying, ‘We need jobs.’ There was an outcry. People want to work. So, we didn’t charge people to gain entry. We didn’t even charge vendors to participate.”

Dempsey relied on volunteers like District 209 Board of Education member Theresa Kelly to help register attendees and serve food to vendors. Other community leaders who turned up at the fair included Richard Boykin, who won the Democratic nomination for First District Cook County Commissioner in the March primaries; former Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene “Gene” Moore; Maywood Trustees Audrey Jaycox and Ron Rivers; Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley, who met with police hopefuls at the department’s table; and District 89 Board of Education member Diane Williams.

Left to right: Princess Dempsey; Richard Boykin, Mayor Perkins and Chief Talley. (Photo by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press).

Princess DePrincess Dempsey Richard Boykin, Mayor Perkins, Chief Talley

In all, about 450 people attended the fair, according to Dempsey’s count. Mayor Perkins hopes that the event can be a model for the future.

“I think this was fantastic,” the Mayor said. “It was of the highest quality. This took more than four months of planning and a lot of hard work, but it was a success. We passed out over 100 gift bags; we served food to the vendors; we got employers to come here to Maywood,” she said, before thanking Sen. Kimberly Lightford, Mr. Boykin, Ms. Dempsey, her staff and the numerous individuals who volunteered.

Michael Ruppert heard about the fair while looking for employment opportunities at his local library in Berwyn. Ruppert, a customer relations professional, said that the event appealed to him because of the chance to actually interact with representatives from potential employers.

“I wanted to get some face-to-face time, instead of just [job-hunting] online,” he said. “There’s a variety of companies here, so that’s a plus.”

Ruppert was laid-off from a healthcare company, an experience that tempers his personal assessment of the country’s economic outlook.

“The economy is hard to gauge,” he said, when asked whether the job market had recovered from its low point several years ago. “It might be a little better, but the challenge is always trying to adjust to change. I was let go because of changes in reimbursement.”

With the private sector trending toward lower wages, more flexible working hours and temporary positions, public sector employment (if Friday’s fair is any indicator) seems rather stable by comparison.

Recruiters and HR representatives from government agencies such as the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Pace Suburban Bus Service all seemed to emphasize one attribute of public employment above all others–the benefits.

Applicants
A job-seeker fills out an application. (Photo by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press).

Donna King, a recruiter for the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS), said the agency has experienced a shortage of public aid eligibility assistants, office administrators, office assistants, social service career trainees, social service program planners and social workers. King said she thinks the shortages are due, in part, to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“We have a new system that came into play with the ACA, [which has expanded eligibility for DHS services],” she said. “We’re looking for more employees who can process applications into our new system.”

King noted that many of the openings require only a high school diploma and all offer an array of benefits such as paid sick leave, personal business days, paid holidays, paid overtime and full insurance coverage, which are becoming harder to find in entry-level private sector employment.

Sgt. Fred Nasch became an officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections 12 years ago. He said that, in addition to the advancement opportunities the job provides, “the benefits are great.”

But while various public sector careers may provide relatively comfortable compensation packages, they aren’t always the most accessible.

Diane Williams, a recruiter for the Illinois Department of Transportation (who also happens to be a District 89 Board member), said that the agency is looking for civil engineers, engineer technicians and highway maintainers. Highway maintainers are the people who perform maintenance work on Illinois roads. Their duties include plowing snow, spreading salt, filling shoulder ruts and directing traffic during maintenance operations. Their monthly pay varies from $4,550 to $4,648, depending on where the highway maintenance takes place and the kind of work they do.

Unfortunately, Williams said, not many people know how to apply for the positions when they become available.

“It’s a system,” she said of the hiring process. “If you know it, it’s not hard. One of the reasons I came [to the job fair] is to education people on that system. To apply for highway maintainer, you have to be part of an eligibility list.”

That list includes several requirements, such as the “possession of a class ‘A’ CDL with endorsements of ‘N’ (tankers) or ‘X’ (tankers with hazardous materials) and non-restrictive air brakes, before an applicant can participate in the examination,” according to a brochure. It also requires at least a year of driving experience that doesn’t include an episode of a suspended or revoked license.

Among private sector employers, the fair featured Ikea, which was seeking to fill 100 openings at its Schaumburg location; Clearbrook Services, which was looking to employ full-time and part-time supported living assistants and direct support persons for people with disabilities; and UPS, which was seeking to fill a variety of positions, such as package handler, in its Chicago area locations.

Ana Contreras, a Human Resources Supervisor with UPS, began working for the company 11 years ago. She began as a package handler and worked her way up. She noted that the company’s compensation and incentive package rivals that of public sector agencies. Not only does UPS offer a competitive benefits package, it also pays for its employees to go to school.

“UPS will pay for you to attend college, depending on the college you want to go to,” Contreras said. “We also have great starting pay.”

Perhaps the prospect would be enough to entice 18-year-old Marquetta Gooden, who had just graduated from Proviso East the week before.

“I’m looking for cashier and retail positions,” she said. “I’m planning on going to Triton in the fall to major in Criminal Justice.”

Although she noted that she was primarily interested in employment that wasn’t quite career-defining, she didn’t wholly write off the prospect of considering the kind of relatively stable employment that a UPS or Pace may provide.

“There are a lot of good companies here,” Gooden said.

Lisa Shelton was also impressed with the diversity of companies represented. Shelton, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Illinois State University, has worked for an insurance company for three years, but is looking to get into something different.

“I’ve been to job fairs in Oak Brook, Navy Pier and Tinley Park,” she said. “None of them had as many different companies represented in one room as this one.” VFP

Left to right: Marquetta Gooden reads literature at a vendor’s table; Ana Contreras assists a prospective applicant; Eugene Moore; job-seekers interact with prospective employers. (Photo by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press).

Marquetta GoodenAna Contreras

Eugene MooreJob Fair

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