Ashley Dodson, human resources director for University Management, the parent company of the Eat With Us chain of restaurants, left, speaks to Terry Ray of Shannon during the Golden Triangle Job Fair at the American Legion Hall in Columbus Wednesday. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
Mississippi State University’s Small Business Development Center director Charles “Chip” Templeton, left, gives Gwen Allen of Cedar Bluff a card of his to contact him about starting her own business during the Golden Triangle Job Fair at the American Legion Hall in Columbus Wednesday.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
October 19, 2017 11:11:46 AM
Terry Ray, dressed is his finest suit, moved from table to table during Wednesday's Golden Triangle Job Fair at the American Legion Hall in Columbus, joining hundreds who gathered for the one-day event that featured representatives from about three dozen companies and organizations.
But Ray wasn't looking for a job, exactly. He was looking for options.
"I just wanted to see what's out there, what kind of jobs there are," said Ray, a 16-year-old high school sophomore who made the drive to Columbus from his home in Shannon. "I'm not sure what I want to do, whether it's college or finding a job after I graduate. I'm keeping it open right now."
Skip McLaughlin, who has been coordinator of the job expo for the past seven years, said he was pleased with Wednesday's event, based on his observations and the feedback he received from company reps and job-seekers alike.
"It's the best we've had in the past few years," McLaughlin said. "It went very well. The vendors were extremely happy with the people who showed up and the job-seekers were happy with the variety of companies -- especially the big companies like Airbus and Paccar and Yokohama.
"We probably had a couple hundred more people show up this year, probably 450 or so," he added. "That's definitely an improvement over last year."
Ashely Dodson, Human Resources for University Management, the parent company of the Eat With Us chain of restaurants, said the job fair was an opportunity for her company to find candidates not only for immediate job openings but for future positions as well.
"I really like the job fairs because you can talk to people face-to-face," she said. "A lot of our applications are online, but we like to attend these kind of events too. We're looking for good people who are eager to work and usually job fairs bring out people who are highly-motivated. That appeals to us."
Dodson said the emergence of local culinary arts programs at Mississippi University for Women, East Mississippi Community College and Mississippi State University have strengthened to pool of good candidates.
"We work closely with all of the programs because they are producing people who aren't just looking for a job," she said. "They're looking for a career and they're serious about it. That shows up in everything they do."
Dodson's company probably wasn't high on the list of 20-year-old Summer Johnston of West Point.
"I've been working in the food service business, but I decided it wasn't for me," Johnston said. "I came here to see if there were other options, maybe in an office, or something like that. I plan to go to take online college courses and would like to be in social work. Until then, I'm looking for a job that would allow me to work and take those courses."
Johnston said she was surprised to learn that a number of the companies were looking for entry-level workers.
"I am really happy to see that," she said. "Even places like Airbus and PACCAR are looking at people who don't have a lot of experience. I would never have thought that."
James Goodman, a human resources specialist for PACCAR, said the emergence of vocational programs at the high school and community college level has made the search for potential workers much easier than in years past.
"For the jobs we have available right now, we're only requiring a high-school diploma," he said. "But they do need to be familiar with things ... like hydraulics and electrical, be able to read a print, have some knowledge of welding. So there is some training they need to have. Now we're seeing so many of those young people who are getting that training, even at the high school level. So that's really helpful, for them and for us as employers."
Although he's still a few years from making the decision between college and going to work, Ray said the event encouraged him.
"I've worked before," he said. "Last year, I worked at a car wash, just to help the family bring in some extra money. But I didn't like it because, well, it's washing cars. I want to work in a job where I can really learn something. That's why I came here today and I feel like it was worth it. There are so many jobs that I never thought about."
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Gwenn Allen of Cedar Grove near West Point.
"I'm looking for something part-time," said Allen, who retired from her job at a collection agency in Memphis to return home to take care of her elderly mother. "My mom passed, so I want to find something to do now. I really would like something in collections or in an office, because I worked in an office for 44 years and I know the environment, but I'm keeping an open mind.
"What I do know is that I don't want to work full-time and I don't want to go back to Memphis," she added. "Hopefully, I'll find what I'm looking for here today."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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