Low turnout at a career fair isn’t always a bad thing.
“Maybe that’s a blessing, maybe it means people have jobs,” Greg White said Wednesday morning standing in the gymnasium at the Solomon Calhoun Center as he surveyed the booths and attendees at the annual job fair he helps organize for the West Augustine community.
By 11:30, only about 60 people had stopped in during the first hour and a half of the event.
White seemed slightly disappointed given that the fair hosted almost 30 employers this year, including Flagler Hospital, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, St. Augustine Police Department, Advanced Disposal and Republic Services. It was the most, he said, in the fair’s 7- or 8-year history.
About an hour before the 2 p.m. close, the numbers had climbed steadily, topping 100 and approaching last year’s turnout, but still slightly off.
White said he suspected the sagging numbers had as much as to do with the county’s low unemployment rate — 3.3 percent in March, the latest official number — as they did with any loss of interest in the community.
Although the slower morning caused some to change things up a bit, there was plenty of enthusiasm among those who did attend.
Jennifer Smalls, who works in human resources at KeHe Distributors, said she had planned to give a talk to attendees about how to “survive in the corporate world” and how to prepare for an interview. Instead, she said, she directed her remarks to representatives from the employers who attended, and encouraged them to get the word out about jobs and opportunities their companies and organizations are offering.
By doing so, they could strengthen their community, and keep young people from moving out of the area after high school and college.
That was the route Smalls initially took in her career.
Born and raised in St. Augustine, she went to college, graduated and pursued a career in human resources that took her to Atlanta before the pull of home and family brought her back. With a graduate degree, though, she worried she wouldn’t be able to find a job in the county worthy of the effort she put into her education.
“But I found a job,” she said in the hallway after her talk. “And I found a job I wanted.”
She urged those that sat in on her remarks to work to get the message out that there are jobs, with benefits, to be had and to help the younger generation in the community to set aside a defeatist attitude that could consign them to lower-paying, menial jobs.
“The goal was to inspire them to go out and inspire others,” Smalls said.
As the event wound down, White said he continues to be inspired.
Long concerned with the prospects of his community’s younger generation, White said he is going to continue to organize the event because people do rely on it.
“I think young people believe that the job fair works because it has worked in the past,” he said.
He knew of at least one person who was getting hired at Republic because of the day’s fair, and knew other people had benefited from the information and networking available.
Even if it only resulted in one person getting “through the process,” White said, his efforts and those of the other organizers, will have been worth it.
“We will do it again,” he said.