Small crowd makes big impressions at job fair

Danielle Burns (right) picks up informational items at the Ambetter Arkansas table Thursday at a job fair held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. Representing the insurance company was Admetha James. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Byron Tate)

There were not tons of people at a job fair held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Thursday, but the people that had set up tables in hopes of attracting attention seemed to appreciate the quality of those who stopped by.

The fair, an annual event sponsored by the Pine Bluff Housing Authority, attracted 25 in-person vendors -- and about that many visitors by early afternoon -- and also a couple of businesses that simply had printouts of their jobs posted at a front desk.

Danielle Burns, 26, was making the rounds, picking up business cards and visiting with representatives. She's a career navigator with Goodwill Industries in Little Rock. Mostly, she was there to visit with local people and look for resources that Goodwill might find beneficial to partner with.

"There are some major networking possibilities here today," she said, wearing a navy blue Goodwill polo shirt. "But if I find another job," she concluded, ending her sentence with a big smile.

Around the corner was Candy Ladd, director of employment at Saracen Casino Resort, who seemed ready to sign up prospective employees then and there.

Ladd said things had been a little slow but all was good.

"That's fine," she said. "I've had some good conversations with several qualified people, and every conversation is a good conversation. I'm just here trying to let everyone know who we are and what we do."

Ladd said the casino is always hiring to fill positions on the food and beverage side of the house, but skilled workers were also in high demand.

"We're looking for electricians, heating and air conditioning people and plumbers," she said. "If they have those skills, that's great."

Ladd said someone from the casino was at the state unemployment office -- more formally known as the Arkansas Workforce Center, 1001 S. Tennessee St. -- every Tuesday.

"We hire on the spot," Ladd said, as a man walked up to get information.

Admetha James, a representative with Ambetter Arkansas, an insurance company that provides services to lower-income Arkansans, said she was there to make sure people knew they did not have to live without insurance.

"College students who aren't on their parents' insurance, part-time workers," she said. "We just want to make sure people know their options. People don't have to be without insurance if they don't want to be."

Next to James was Chelsea Jackson, who was looking not to hire anyone but to entice students to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, where she is a recruiter.

"I like to put a foot in the door at these events," she said. "If they invite us, I'm there, especially with all of the different programs that we have."

Sgt. First Class Felicia Williams, an Army Reserve recruiter, said she had answered several questions from visitors about serving in the Army.

"A few people have stopped by the table and were like, 'Oh, I didn't know that,'" she said.

Williams said the tough economy, with its high inflation, had not been a catalyst for pushing recruits into the military, apparently because so many jobs are available.

"We're the last resort," she said. "They only come to us if they can't find anything else. I've been doing this for 10 years, and overall it's been pretty steady. The one thing that has stayed the same is that people tell me, 'Oh, I don't want to go to war.'"

Williams said many people assume that if they join the military, the experience will be like a video game, such as Battlefield 4.

"TV drives the whole thing," she said. "People think they'll be kicking in doors and blowing up stuff, and I tell them, 'No, your war is right there in your hand.'"

Williams said she was referring to a person's smartphone, which can be used to bully people and spy on them.

"There's software for anything and everything," she said.

One visitor to the job fair, a man in his late 50s who preferred to remain anonymous, said he owns a business and also works for the city but that he needs more income to support himself. He had visited with most of the vendors, he said, but had decided to try for a job on an assembly line at Lennox Industries in Stuttgart, one of the companies that had left an informational sheet at the front counter.

"Starting Pay: $20/HR," stated the sheet. "Call Billy or Nastassia."

"I can do it," he said as he left the Convention Center and walked to his car. "I'm going to attempt to do it."