Job Fairs Offer Hope for Iowa Economy

By Dave DeWitte, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Thursday night's fall job fair at the IowaWorks Center in Cedar Rapids offered a few hints that the job market may be loosening up, if only a bit.

Seventy-two employers turned out for the job fair at IowaWorks, a number that seemed to impress both job-seekers and employers alike.

"Seeing all the people out here looking to hire is great," said Adam Klitzka, 26, of Cedar Rapids, who was recently laid off from an automotive sales position. "I wish more people would come to a job fair like this."

Kiltzka's sales background didn't seem to hurt as he tried to sell himself to employees.

"You learn how far you can push your comfort zone," he said.

Job-seekers were lined up at the door when the event began, and thronged the booths of employers early in the event. By the second hour, however, the crowd had started to thin out.

Crystal Alexander of Manpower Inc. in Cedar Rapids was making plenty of contacts with job-seekers. She said the backgrounds of applicants varied from those who had enjoyed the full run of unemployment compensation and then gotten serious about finding a job, to those who were forewarned that they'd be laid off in a month or two.

For the first time since the recession hit, Alexander has started to see significant numbers of employed applicants interested in switching jobs.

"Things are opening up, and people are more open to the idea of finding a new job," Alexander said. The motivation is sometimes the feeling of "what's next" as other people at the same company are laid off, she added.

Iowa's unemployment rate has remained stubbornly stuck in the 6 percent range for many months, but remains about 3 percentage points below the national average.

Even with jobs clearly available, finding a match could still prove difficult for many employees. Some of the barriers to employment included relocation requirements, travel, and rotating or night shift requirements, in addition to the usual background requirements.

Deere & Co.'s booth at the job fair was a popular stop, even though the positions available were in the Quad Cities.

"We're here from the Quad Cities because we have significant needs and we're expanding our hiring area," said Richard Wahlstrand, one of three retired Deere & Co. managers who have interviewed over 1,000 applicants during first-level candidate screening in the past three years.

Wahlstrand cautioned candidates that Deere has a rigorous hiring process, but offered plenty of encouragement.

Judging a company's hiring needs by its size would have been a mistake at the job fair. Some large companies with booths at the fair said they only intended to hire one, two or three employees over the next half-year or so, but want to cast a wide net to receive the best applicant pool possible. Other companies, such as the CRST International transportation company in Cedar Rapids, are growing rapidly and expect to do a lot of hiring.

The job fair was organized by Iowa Workforce Development.
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