Job seekers were lined up out the doors and down Commercial Street in hopes of finding work Thursday when the Supporting Employment Transitions and GT Hiring Solutions Job Fair opened at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
More than 50 exhibitors, ranging from potential employers – including McDonald’s and Tim Hortons restaurant chains, the RCMP, Canadian Armed Forces, WestJet and Vancouver Island Health Authority, financial planning firms, cosmetic and health product retailers – to job placement services, skills training and personal development programs, were on hand to help people find new employment or make career changes.
With an official unemployment figure of about seven per cent, organizers were surprised by the heavy turnout of people looking for jobs.
“When we first opened up it was lined up down the block,” said Garth Yoneda, community relations manager with GT Hiring Solutions. “I’m quite convinced that our numbers are out of synch with what our employment stats say they should be.”
The biggest age category was the age 25 to 40 range, with the over-50 crowd making up the second largest portion of job hunters. Organizers reported one couple even came from Vancouver, hopping on the 7 a.m. ferry to attend the fair.
Target, WestJet and Vancouver Island Health Authority tables had the biggest lineups.
“We’re the largest employer on Vancouver Island and we have just about every kind of job imaginable,” said Rod O’Connell, VIHA representative.
VIHA employs not just medical personnel, but everyone from truck drivers and carpenters to librarians.
“We’ve got about 900 different types of jobs and about 2,000 job descriptions,” O’Connell said. “Lots of variety for people to choose from and people know that. We hire between 1,500 and 2,000 people a year.”
Not all fair attendees were out of work. Many were looking for more stable employment, to change careers or were just trying to add variety to their existing jobs.
Lyndea Williamson, 19, from Qualicum, was in a line of people waiting to talk to WestJet representatives. Williamson was training to get into broadcasting when she changed career directions and started teaching dance part-time.
“I was too young when I started – thinking I knew what I wanted – and I took a step back,” Williamson said. “I’m kind of trying to be more open-minded to anything.”
Williamson said she was impressed with the number of career options represented at the job fair, and has good interpersonal skills she wants to put to use. She likes working with people and employment with WestJet would be a good fit. She was interested in any position with the company, from receptionist to flight crew.
“I’m really looking for something where I can learn and grow individually and is positive,” she said.
B.C. Corrections drew its share of interest from prospective employees.
Christina Bootsma, a mental health liaison officer who works at Nanaimo Regional Correctional Centre, was with other corrections officers answering questions. She said the organization is currently only offering part-time regular correctional officer employment positions on the Lower Mainland, but the corrections branch has opportunities to move into a wide range of interesting jobs with good benefits.
“I work one-on-one with inmates,” Bootsma said. “While they’re in jail we set up case plans and get everything set up so when they go out in the community they won’t come back. So we do their taxes to make sure they’re complete. We’ll get all their I.D. while they’re in custody. We’ll try to find housing for them. We’ll do up resumes, jobs, anything that’s going to help them so when they’re out there they don’t have to come right back. Housing is our biggest issue.”
Troy Sampson, 40, a part-time hardwood floor layer since 2004, was among those who stopped by the B.C. Corrections table, even though he hadn’t considered that kind of employment.
Sampson was really looking to get into a line of work that would offer steadier employment.
“Outdoors would be nice. I don’t mind outdoors once in a while,” Sampson said. “Indoors preferred. I like to be on my feet long hours sometimes, which is great depending on who you’re working with. I just want to see what’s out there.”
Sampson said most available positions he encountered on his search are with fast food chains, but any construction jobs that come open are quickly snapped up.
“You have to be the first 10 callers or five callers and maybe you’re hired,” he said.
Sampson said positions with B.C. Corrections were interesting, but he did not want to risk moving away from the Nanaimo area for part-time work.
“You could end up with a four- to six-hour shift and there’s your pay for the next week,” he said.