Freelining with Mike Freeman: The sorry state of job fairs.

Job seekers show up for a job fair at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, but are there actually full-time jobs to be found there? (Photo by Michael Freeman).

It seems like every time I read about the state of the economy, it’s being viewed almost entirely through the prism of politics.
Last Friday, the unemployment rate for December came out, showing that 155,000 jobs got created nationally, while the jobless rate held steady at 7.8 percent. For those who think this was a weak result, there are different camps who blame alternate sources for this result – although the two main culprits tend to be President Obama or, alternatively, the Republican-controlled Congress.
For those who think President Obama’s policies are hopelessly holding back stronger growth, an article by John Steele Gordon in the conservative Commentary magazine, which called the jobs report “dreary,” was a good starting point. Gordon compared the economic recovery under Obama to the recovery under President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s as the nation was coming out of the Great Depression.
“Why is the dismal Obama recovery so much like the dismal Roosevelt recovery of the 1930s?” Gordon wrote. “Could it be because both presidents pursued the same policies—high taxes on high-income earners, greatly increased regulation on business, government ‘investment,’ and redistribution of wealth? Yep, it could be.”
The president’s supporters, on the other hand, place the blame on the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for obstructionist policies that place politics over solutions.
Either way, it’s interesting that both sides tend to view political decisions made in Washington – and, more importantly, party platforms – as holding the key to future growth. It’s a bit like suggesting that if we could get one-party rule in D.C., and the party united behind one approach to problem solving, the economy would sail ahead like a ship on the ocean.
Having observed the economy in Central Florida for a while now, I seriously doubt Congress or the White House have any magic potions to cure the economy, or they would have used them a long time ago.
I think a far more interesting – and revealing – way to measure the state of the economy is to look at something else entirely: job fairs.
If anybody wonders why our economy seems so painfully challenging for job seekers, go to a job fair sometime. It’s a agonizing exercise in futility.
In theory, a job fair is supposed to be a place where employers have full-time jobs to fill, and are matched up with workers who have the needed experience. That’s the concept, anyway.
But in Central Florida, a region savagely battered by the collapse of the housing market, employers looking to fill full-time positions are in very short supply, and they typically have no problem whatsoever finding qualified applicants – and usually get bombarded with far too many resumes to even find the time to review.
So they don’t attend job fairs. They don’t have to.
Who does?
Good question. For those weary job hunters who attend job fairs with high expectations that they may finally be about to secure a full-time position, local job fairs tend to break down into four categories.
1. Entry level sales associates. Quite simply, many companies are eager to hire sales representatives to market their firm’s products and services. What they don’t want, though, is experienced sales workers with a proven track record – because they demand good salaries and benefits. Instead, these snake-oil firms are eager to find “entry level” workers – those with no experience at all.
Why? Because they are not paid a salary, or an hourly rate, but merely a small commission if they get lucky and manage a lone sale. On the other hand, they could spent nine hours a day trying to land a sale, providing valuable marketing and promotional work for the company – and won’t get paid a dime if none of the sales go through. This has become the new American dream for so many companies: free labor.
At one job fair I attended, one of the representatives for these firms said, “We’re not looking for people who just want to collect a paycheck. We’re looking for people who want a career.” A better way of saying it would be, “We want people who work for nothing.”
2. Schools recruiting students. Can’t find a job? Go back to college. Only, the last time I checked, returning to school means I pay you, not you pay me. What does this have to do with securing employment? Not much, except the universities probably figure some job hunters will have become so frustrated by now, and feel so hopeless, that they’re ready to give up the search. That says quite a bit about the state of the economy.
3. The advertising department. These are large employers who are not there to collect resumes, interview applicants, or hire on the spot – but instead send someone to staff a booth and hand out flyers advertising the link to their web site. You need to go online to apply, the job applicant is told. For about 90 percent of the applicants, they knew that long before they arrived at the job fair, and probably had applied online to most of those companies months ago, without success.
4. If you’re lucky, there may be three or four booths at the job fair that do have full-time positions that employers are looking to fill, with a company manager on hand who is actually interviewing applicants and making hiring decisions on the spot. But don’t count on it.
Why hold a job fair that attracts these other three? Why not have a job fair just for companies looking for entry level sales associates willing to work on a commission basis?
Why not have education fairs for colleges recruiting students?
Why not have marketing fairs for companies that want to advertise their web site and online careers page?
Probably because no one would show up for those fairs, so they have to sneak in to a supposedly legitimate job fair that lures in desperate job seekers under false pretenses. You’re not there to get hired and find a career – you’re there to see if you’re willing to work without a salary, or to take out a massive student loan package, or to help spread the word about what other local companies do.
It’s shameful that the organizers of these job fairs allow this to masquerade as a real career event, but in all likelihood if they only organized job fairs with companies hiring full time, there would be no job fairs whatsoever.
I don’t see this changing any time soon based on what’s happening in Washington. Politics may be a fascinating sport, but the truth is that desperate job seekers have become a highly valuable group to target in our battered economy.
The question is, are they desperate enough to provide free labor to companies unwilling to pay for the work you do?

Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

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2 Responses to “Freelining with Mike Freeman: The sorry state of job fairs.”

  1. Cynthia Lamb says:

    This article is so on point. I attended 3 job fairs in a row in Orlando, after relocating here last year. After the 2nd one, I thought the exact same things you wrote of in this article. Why bother dressing up and handing out my resume at a cattle-call where you stand in line to receive a flyer or hand-out with a website on it? I can apply online from the comfort of my own home. The best booths at the fair was the prayer booth, where got some much needed encouragement, and the resume review booth, where I was promptly told to change my resume into bullet format – because people don’t read; they need bullets. How do I consolidate 20+years worth of experience into 2 or 3 bullets??? I only went to the 3rd job fair, because this time it was at a larger location (Amway Center) and they offered some free training courses. That was truly worth my time, if anything but to network. Today I decided to attend a Women’s Business Planning Workshop (not free, but not expensive either). It was the best move I could have made, after launching my own business last month. Not everyone has the luxury of embarking on a new, self owned business. However, I say, if you can manage it, do it. Put your amazing skills to work, by working for yourself. :-)

  2. Cynthia Lamb says:

    were, not was (sorry, this editor has to self-edit).

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