Nearly 500 turn out for job fair

Most in attendance, including 365 veterans, optimistic about prospects

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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Nearly 500 job seekers flocked to Clark College’s Gaiser Hall on Thursday to seek work through a veterans-focused job fair.

Despite Clark County’s 12.1 percent unemployment rate, many of the 365 veterans and 132 non-veterans in attendance said they were optimistic about their prospects.

“It feels like the economy is picking back up. There are more jobs being posted, and I’m getting interviews again,” said Vince Sergi, 34, of Vancouver, a Marine Corps vet who has been unemployed or held minimum-wage jobs for the past three years.

Samantha Orem, 27, of Battle Ground, who recently returned from an Air National Guard deployment to Iraq, said she is also feeling upbeat about her prospects — though she’s been looking for full-time work for more than four years. “Maybe it’s because I just got back, but I’m more gung-ho,” she said.

Boeing, Insitu, iQ Credit Union and Legacy Health were among the 28 employers seeking to fill open positions, according to WorkSource Vancouver, one of several sponsors of the event.

“We are in growth mode, so we almost always have openings,” said Lance Easterby, 37, a recruiter for Waste Connections in Vancouver. Easterby was looking for five Vancouver-based garbage truck drivers, and three for Hood River, Ore.

Jim Johnson, branch manager of Madden Industrial Craftsmen Inc. in Vancouver, said he was having a hard time finding skilled welders and machinists, let alone workers for more specialized positions that his staffing company fills.

Minutes later, Colt Smith, 27, of Vancouver approached Johnson to discuss one of Madden’s openings. Smith, who recently left the Marine Corps, said he anticipates that his military experience and government security clearance will help him in the hunt for a job.

Though largely upbeat, job seekers also acknowledged the challenges that high unemployment creates.

“This is the worst I’ve seen since I’ve been on the planet,” said Greg Walters, 62, an on-call chaplain looking for full-time paying work.

“I’m having a hard time finding jobs I’m qualified for,” Walters said. “That’s why I’m here.”