If a soup kitchen line is the lasting image of the Great Depression, then the job fair line is beginning to serve that purpose for the current recession.
More than 300 people sauntered through GateWay Community College in Phoenix on Wednesday during the school's annual spring job fair. It was the latest, in a string of job fairs that have popped up across the Valley.
Some of the attendees were graduating students, fresh to the job market. Many were longtime professionals who had fallen victim to the worsening economy. But almost all came in hoping to land a position with the 25 employers present.
"There are so many people looking for work right now," said Jan Davie, director of GateWay's career and employment services. "We have never seen more job seekers in our offices before."
Valley professionals who have been employed for decades are joining networking Web sites, just to get their name out there. And they are not picky. Most are willing to work any job they can, in order to pay bills and put food on the table.
But a job fair presents a different opportunity.
It gives people a chance to be proactive. Job seekers can meet a decision maker face-to-face and make a personal impression. To many, this is much more advantageous than sending in a résumé electronically and crossing their fingers.
However, even job fairs have hit hard times. The number of employers that Gateway attracted this year was cut by almost one-third from a year ago, when about 70 attended.
Nonetheless, Valley hopefuls came out in droves, wishing that it was the day that their job search would turn around.
Here are just a few of their stories:
Chris Lacey, job seeker for two months
Chris Lacey knew his job was in jeopardy when his company, Pulte Homes, Inc., stopped announcing housing starts.
Each month, Pulte would announce the number of homes it was beginning to construct. During the housing boom, that number was in the hundreds. But gradually the numbers began to dwindle.
That's when the firing began.
It took 10 waves of cutbacks before Lacey, then a purchasing manager, was handed a pink slip. It came after Pulte hit rock bottom in February and March: zero housing starts.
"It was truly unbelievable," he said. "I knew people weren't buying homes, but zero starts was really surprising."
Three years earlier, when Lacey first started with the company, business was through the roof. Pulte rode the wave of the housing boom - 600 to 700 starts was the norm. Now this was dropped on him.
Lacey, his wife, and 5-year-old daughter live in Buckeye. It was hard telling his wife what happened, but it was more difficult breaking the news to his daughter.
"She was always really proud that her daddy made houses," he said. "It was hard to tell her that I had lost the job."
It became more challenging after a teacher called the house, saying that his daughter had been crying in class. It was the same week he was laid off.
"It's been tough," Lacey said.
For the past two months, Lacey has been relentless in pursuing job leads. He's registered with all the major job search Web sites and has applied for about 100 jobs, he said, but so far he's only received rejection letters.
Lacey has also tried to register for unemployment, but it's becoming a full-time job itself, he said. He goes online to register and comes across a problem. He calls the phone number for help, but the line is either busy or references him back to the Web site.
In the meantime, his wife, a real estate agent, has become the primary breadwinner. The family also has some savings. But Lacey still pushes ahead.
"I'm not going to stop until I find something," he said.
Janice Rickman, job seeker for six months
It is the first time in 13 years that Janice Rickman has been out of a job.
She was laid off as data coordinator from United HealthCare Services, Inc. after more than four years of service. She was able to stave off 3 waves of cutbacks, but the fourth snagged her.
After that, the problems came in short order.
Rickman lives in a house she's owned in south Phoenix for 23 years. She lives along with her 21-year-old daughter and her 20-month-old grandson. The bills come fast and furious with a small child, Rickman said.
"I have a house to run, and bills to pay," she said. "That doesn't change, whether I have a job or not."
To help with the costs, Rickman registered for food stamps - something she never thought she'd have to do. Then, she had to cash in her 401(k) and sell off the stock she received as part of her severance package from United HealthCare.
But still it wasn't enough.
Rickman had to sell off the family pet of 6 years, a parrot named Rosie, for $800 to make ends meet.
She also tried to register for unemployment, but kept running into roadblocks from the state on why she didn't qualify. After almost two months of headaches, Rickman decided to write an e-mail to then-Governor Janet Napolitano.
In the letter, she explained her plight and went into detail about how she was at risk of losing the house in which she raised four children.
She sent the letter on a Friday. By Monday, she got a telephone call that the governor had received it. On Wednesday, the money was deposited in her bank account.
"I can't explain how good that felt," she said. "That was a great week."
Rickman's daughter has a part-time job as a receptionist. Rickman is still trying to get herself a job. She's been online and at job fairs to make that happen.
"I'm not a slacker," she said. "I just need a chance to prove what I can do."
Jeff Trostle and Nina Welsh, job seekers for one month
|Jeff Trostle and Nina Welsh|
Jeff Trostle and Nina Welsh have only been in Arizona for about a month, but they've attended three job fairs.
The couple came to Surprise, along with their 8-month-old son, from Baltimore to live with Trostle's parents. But they had to sell their 1997 Kia Sephia to get here.
"We're living month-to-month," Welsh said. "It's really tight."
Trostle was a sheet metal worker in Baltimore. As demand for commercial real estate began to dry up, so did construction jobs.
Work became scarce, Trostle said, and it became apparent that it was time for a new start.
The couple headed to Arizona where Welsh quickly picked up a job as a waitress at a restaurant.
She isn't happy, though. More people are staying at home to eat, which means less business and less tips for Welsh.
"There isn't enough money to go around at the restaurant," she said. "I need something better."
Trostle remains unemployed. But it isn't for a lack of trying. He's expanded his job search from the construction business and is willing to work anywhere, as long as it helps his family move out of his parent's house.
"I love my parents, but we need our own space," Trostle said. "I need a job to get me there."
Richard Royer, job seeker for two days
Richard Royer is only two days into his job search, but he's optimistic.
"I feel it won't take very long to find a job," he said.
Royer, of Chandler, was laid off on Tuesday from Avnet, Inc., an industrial distributor of electronic parts, after working there as an industrial engineer for 13 years.
He may be out of a job, but Royer has something that most people who are laid off don't have - another job.
Royer is an adjunct professor at Western International University, where he teaches computer science and supply chain management.
He doesn't believe the professorial job is enough to pay the bills. He lives with his wife and 20-year-old son in Chandler. He needs another job to supplement the income, he said, and he wants to find it soon.
Until then, Royer plans to apply for positions online and attend job fairs.
"I don't want to waste time," he said. "I want to get a job as soon as I can."