Hundreds of job seekers attend Herrera Beutler job fair

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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photoAn estimated 800 job seekers packed the ballroom and lobby of the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay in Vancouver on Wednesday hoping to find opportunity among the 70 participating companies, from fast-food franchises to high-tech businesses.

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List of employers presenting at Herrera Beutler jobs fair

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Close to 800 job seekers crowded into the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay Wednesday, many with résumés in hand, hoping to match their skills with the job openings that nearly 70 participating companies were looking to fill.

Turnout for the job fair, organized by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and her staff, exceeded all expectations. “We stopped calling (employers) at 50,” said Ryan Hart, who manages the congresswoman’s Vancouver office. A few companies showed up unannounced Wednesday; Hart had to scramble to find them space.

The Republican congresswoman made no formal statement but spent her time talking to people looking for jobs. “There was a lot more optimism” than she expected, she said, and she was impressed with the range of openings on offer, from entry-level jobs to those requiring advanced skills.

Job seekers ranged from recent college graduates to people in their 50s who never expected to be looking for work at this point in their lives.

Brent Smithline of Camas was laid off by a regional Internet service provider last October and has been looking ever since. “I haven’t given up hope,” the 57-year-old said. “Unfortunately, people are going to work for low wages with very little experience, and they’re getting the jobs.”

Tye Mulder of Camas graduated from Eastern Washington University in June with a criminal justice degree and has sent out 60 job applications, including for entry-level part-time jobs.

“No callbacks as of yet,” he said.

Herrera Beutler said she got the idea for the job fair in August, when she hosted a business roundtable in Vancouver. Steve Jones, a manager with Longview-based Entek Corp., told her he would hire qualified heating and ventilation-certified workers in a minute if he could find them.

Bringing them together

If there were good jobs going begging, she thought, bringing employers and job seekers together might help. “I didn’t have any idea what kind of response we’d get.”

Entek had a table at Wednesday’s event, and Jones said finding workers is still an issue. “These jobs don’t require four years of college,” he said. “We hired a tech trainee who went to Lower Columbia College for one year.”

In fact, the heating and air-conditioning industry is facing a labor shortage as today’s workers begin to retire, he said.

Madden Industrial Craftsmen Inc., a Vancouver heavy industrial staffing company, was advertising 12 openings at its client companies for skilled workers including machinists, millwrights and fabricators.

“It’s just finding the right people with the right skills and matching them up,” said recruiter Mirelda Villagomez.

United Road, a Vancouver-based trucking company that hauls cars throughout the Western United States and Alaska, was looking to hire 30 drivers based at three different locations. Recruiter Jamie Leatherwood said applicants must have clean driving records and Class A commercial driver’s licenses.

Red Lion Hotels was distributing lists of its job openings nationwide, including positions for a line cook and a “dishroom attendant” at its Vancouver hotel.

Casandra Pierce of Vancouver was waiting in the long line at the Burgerville table. “I used to work at Burgerville, but I moved away,” she said. She quit a job at Fred Meyer to help her cousin take care of her kids. Now she’s back and unemployed. “I’m looking for whatever — part time, full time,” she said.

The armed services were well represented at the job fair. Army Staff Sgt. Charles Dixon said he’d had some interest, but it’s not as easy to enlist in the Army as it once was. For one thing, background checks are extensive. “Our standards of enlistment do fluctuate,” he said, but currently, “we are exceeding our recruitment goals.”

Paul Della, a former electrical systems engineer for Vestas, the Danish company that manufactures wind turbine components, was looking for work after being laid off 29 months ago. Despite his 23 years of experience, and the fact that green energy is widely touted as a source of future jobs, he has had no luck.

“I think it had to do with financing,” he said of his layoff. “It’s a sad commentary. Projects were dying. We had wind turbines lying on the ground.”

Jessica Badalamenti of Vancouver has felt the recession directly. An independent massage therapist, she has seen her business dry up during the recession. “Unfortunately, people are dropping all the luxuries. It’s taken a toll on my work.”

Now she and her husband are in the process of buying a house. “If we get it,” she said, “I’ll have to get a part-time job to pay the mortgage.”

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523; Twitter: col_politics; kathie.durbin@columbian.com.