Hundreds of job seekers filled the junior fair building at the Washington County Fairgrounds Wednesday where more than 70 employers and training institutions were on hand for the Mid Ohio Valley Job Fair.
“Our purpose is to link job seekers with employers and vice-versa,” said Wendy Ketelson senior employment and training specialist with Washington Morgan Community Action.
“These employers are looking for qualified employees and will be hiring within the next six months to a year,” she said. “There are plenty of jobs, but those seeking good jobs at this time need certain skill sets to fill those positions, so that’s where the schools and training providers come in.”
The first hour of the four-hour event was limited to veterans who were looking for jobs, Ketelson said.
In Ohio the unemployment rate for veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq is 13.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Representatives from the Ohio Department of Veterans Services who attended Wednesday’s job fair said they could not discuss the current local job situation for area veterans without prior approval from their administrators.
But earlier on Wednesday Roy Ash, Washington County Veterans Services officer, said local vets could use good jobs.
“We see veterans coming here for financial assistance when they can’t find jobs,” he said. “We have some funding to help them get back on their feet by providing rental, food and utilities assistance.”
But Ash noted the local area is limited when it comes to jobs paying more than $10 an hour.
“They can find plenty of fast-food jobs, but those don’t pay enough for vets who have families to support,” he said. “So many go back to school and try to make ends meet while they get some training for a career.”
Ash said many employers prefer to hire veterans if they have the right qualifications for a job.
“Most want to hire vets because they know veterans have a good work ethic and are dependable workers,” she said. “Employers often give veterans preference when hiring.”
About 50 veterans showed up during the first hour of the job fair.
“The turnout was more than I expected,” Ketelson said.
The remaining three hours of the job fair were open to the public.
“Some people are underemployed or just working part time and need a better job, while others may have been unemployed for some time,” Ketelson said. “If they want work, there are jobs available, although those may not be the ideal jobs people are looking for. And if you’re already working it’s often easier to find a new job.”
Recently added to the Mid Ohio Valley’s unemployment lines are workers from the Ormet plant in Monroe County that is closing, according to an announcement by plant officials earlier this month.
“I’ve been looking for a job since Aug. 18, but it’s hard to find a position with good pay and benefits,” said Tim Chadwell of Fleming, one of the 900-plus out of work due to the Ormet closing.
He had worked at Ormet for more than six years.
“This is my first job fair, and I’m finding there’s a lot of work outside of this area,” Chadwell said. “I’m willing to move, but would rather stay here.”
Chadwell and 14-year Ormet employee Steve Kiggans were discussing job opportunities with Randy Mills, human resources field representative from Kraton Polymers in Belpre.
“We’ve been hiring pretty steadily for the last few years,” Mills said. “In fact, we just hired 20 new chemical operators, adding to about 230 operators we already have. And our new research and development facility will be going online in January.”
He said the R&D jobs will likely be filled from within the company, but that will open more positions that can be hired from outside the facility.
Mills noted that having some education helps for those seeking jobs with companies like Kraton.
“Probably 75 percent of the last guys we hired had post high school education, most from two-year institutions, but some had attended a four-year college,” he said.
Still, Mills said the skills needed for chemical operator jobs with Kraton are being taught at local institutions like the Washington County Career Center and Washington State Community College.
“There are excellent training resources locally, and we work closely with them,” he said.
A table was set up at one end of the building where job seekers could fill out applications on the spot.
“It’s nice to have all these employers in one place,” said Aleisha Strong, 23, of Parkersburg as she worked on an application.
“I’ve been looking for a job for about six months now, but this is my first job fair,” she said. “I’m hoping to find something in the medical field.”
Nearby Debbie Clatterbuck, 51, of Marietta was also filling out a job application.
“I haven’t been in the job market for a while-I’m hoping for a clerical position, but there doesn’t seem to be as many of those jobs as there are nurses, truck drivers and laborers,” she said.
One option some veterans were considering during Wednesday’s job fair was re-enlisting in the military, according to Army Sgt. Michael Berkshire, a recruiter stationed in the Athens area.
“Some vets were asking about re-enlisting today,” he said. “They’re welcome as long as they qualify for the job and are generally no older than 34, although the qualifications can vary depending on their education and former military status.”