On a sunny last-gasp-of-summer Friday afternoon at Eureka's bayside Wharfinger Building, job-coveters young and old arrived at the Humboldt Career Fair resumes in hand, hoping the awesome weather might be an omen of similarly bright futures -- with paychecks.
Some came dressed to the (Humboldt) nines -- shirt ironed, pants pressed, despite-the-warm-weather suit jackets buttoned -- ready to impress potential employers. Others swam in baggy clothing with flat-billed lids. Some looked so young that they could conceivably have been looking for their first job. Others looked as though they might have liked to be planning retirement by now.
One thing they could all probably agree on: Near the top of the "soul-crushing things" list is scribbled "looking for jobs."
Tom Leydecker knows it. He had been working at Blue Lake Power since it opened 2 ½ years ago, but was permanently laid off on July 2 along with around 15 other people. Many of his former co-workers have moved to Oregon to find work.
"It's hit really hard," says Leydecker, a single father of twin 4-year-old boys. He's been getting assistance from his mom and dad and has been collecting unemployment. Sometimes the applications feel like an exercise in futility, and all he can think to himself is, "there's another one I'm filling out for no reason."
At the career fair, Leydecker filled out three applications and talked about his prospects as if he'd just hit a jackpot on the nickel slots.
"Facility maintenance through Blue Lake Casino is a very good possibility and Sears is looking for a sales rep," he said. "I've been told I can sell anything. ... I just need to get my feet on the ground and start running again."
He's not alone. During the two-hour event on Friday, 241 job seekers signed in to meet potential employers, said Jessica Adkisson, manager of the Job Market, one of the agencies that sponsored the fair.
Hopeful candidates looked over table displays set up by 16 local employers and organizations with nearly 100 positions to fill, angling to make that connection that could get them back in the employed column.
One of the most active booths -- smack dab in the middle of the Wharfinger's shiny wood floor -- was Cher-ae Heights Casino's. They brought it. While a handful of tables featured standard dishes of discount candies, Cher-ae Heights could easily have been declared the swag-iest booth -- pens, decommissioned decks of cards and "I Got Toasted at the Firewater Lounge" T-shirts were liberally distributed.
"It's a meet and greet," Cher-ae Heights Human Resources Manager Michelle Miller explained. "It's a time for us to speak with potential candidates about their job skills."
The casino isn't able to do immediate hires since candidates need to go through security checks and drug tests, but, she said, "We definitely increased our job applicant pool." When asked what positions Cher-ae Heights was looking to fill, Miller referred to a flyer listing nine specific positions -- slot maintenance tech, deli worker, valet, and Crown Club rep, to name a few. At the bottom of the list was the caveat: "all positions part-time."
The latest batch of numbers released in July by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics sets Humboldt County's unemployment rate at 11.9 percent -- slightly below California's state 12.4 percent mark. Regionally, we're a little better off, too. While Mendocino runs neck and neck with us -- at 11.3 percent -- everywhere else is significantly more distressed; Del Norte County -- 14.5 percent, Shasta 15 percent, Siskiyou 16.6 percent, Trinity 17.9 percent. Those numbers are hardly comforting to Humboldt residents without jobs who fancy groceries.
At the Wharfinger, Halsey Demant was one of the guys who'd gone to the trouble of dressing nice for the event. (Full disclosure: We were Fortuna Huskies together, back in the day.) He had worked at Mantova's Two Street Music in Eureka for two years before he and another sales associate were laid off in August. While the initial slog had been rough -- "The hunting process has been miserable," he confessed -- he seemed upbeat this day and overwhelmingly grateful for the help he'd received at The Job Market.
"They have been the kindest, most helpful, informative people I've dealt with since I was laid off," Halsey said. "And to think I only went in there because the EDD told me I had to, to collect my unemployment."
In particular, he cited the help he received in crafting "the best resume I've ever had," and the way the organization acted as a second set of eyes and ears, alerting him to new jobs he might be good for or interested in.
"They've been paying as much attention for me as I have been," he said.
In addition to resume writing and printing, one of the more helpful resources The Job Market provides is a list updated daily of every available Humboldt County job posted through CalJobs. How jobby is it? On the day of the job fair the nine pages of listings boasted a Humpressive 357 total jobs.
The list is easy to access. Not to get all news-you-can-usey, but it takes less than five minutes to register with CalJobs online and view its master jobs list. The lions-share of the positions listed fall into the education, healthcare and administrative support fields. Some of the more random options out there:
- Arcata High is looking for a part-time wrestling coach.
- Blue Lake Casino is looking for a dancer -- 31-40 hours per week.
- Safeway is looking for a wine steward, a cake decorator, a sushi clerk and a meat cutter.
If you're unemployed, there's a lot more jobs listed online at co.humboldt.ca.us/hhs/sites/thejobmarket. And for veterans, there's another career fair this weekend at the annual Stand Down at the Ferndale Fairgrounds.