Job fair helps low-income residents


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Iowa City residents Devarius Nelson and Rico Williams came to Eastdale Plaza with one goal in mind: getting a job.

In a tough economy and competitive job market, approximately 200 people gathered on Tuesday at 1700 S First Ave. to meet with 19 different local businesses looking for employees, especially those with relatively little experience.

"These are the jobs that actually care about low-income people," said Nelson, 18. "There are some jobs that wouldn't come to this."

The fair targeted people who are looking to enter the job market, have had past employment problems, and those with limited education, said the event's organizer Paul Retish, a University of Iowa professor of education.

"This is not a job market for Ph.Ds," he said with a smile.

Local organizations have sponsored the event, which has seen largely positive results, for around a decade. The fair has averaged 200 to 250 people and, from those, about 40 to 45 get jobs, Retish said.

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The economy is improving — though marginally — said John Douglass, senior research fellow at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California-Berkeley. But applicants shouldn't expect to see dramatic improvement in the job market, he said.

"We're still feeling the effects of the 'Great Recession,' so the employment market is still going to be pretty mixed for all people looking for jobs," he said.

Lauren Sharon, the area manager for Remedy Intelligent Staffing — a hiring consultant who's continually looking to fill spots — agreed.

"The job market is definitely picking up, and staffing industries are the first to feel that," she said.

Many employers agreed the Job Fair's ability to provide face-to-face interaction makes the employment process better. It's an excellent way to recruit future employees, said Lisa Garringer, director for Tupperware.

"We've seen our market steadily increasing — there are more people looking for jobs right now," she said. "People are actually looking for applications here."

In general, job fairs provide convenience for job seekers because they can save on transportation costs and provide more variety of employers in one space, said 22-year-old Earl Riley.

Retish invited his students to come to the job fair, which took place during their scheduled class time as a way expose them to an environment students wouldn't ordinarily experience when they enter the job market, he said.

His students said the job fair highlighted graduates' upper-hand with employment, noting they're often more comfortable using the ever-increasing online application.

"It's less intimidating for us as college students," said Megan Hichwa, one of Retish's students. "We have that background, so there's an advantage for us."

Also, Douglass advised college students to keep their job searches broad.

"Most people change careers six to eight times in the course of their life," he said. "They need broader skills."

But even though the market is picking up, trying to find a job in this market can still be frustrating, Nelson said.

"At times it's difficult," he said. "But the more effort you put in, the easier it is to find a job."

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