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Union City resident Veronica Riggs speaks with recruiters at an Oakland career fair hosted Sept. 7 by Southern California event company City Career Fair.

Oakland job fair focuses on diversity

on September 15, 2016

At a time of low unemployment but tight competition for top jobs, a diversity-focused downtown Oakland career fair on September 7 attracted more than two dozen employers and a crowd of job seekers.

From their posts behind informational tables scattered with glossy handouts, job recruiters enticed would-be applicants with swag like stress balls, and said finding qualified applicants is tough. Meanwhile, several job searchers with strong credentials but who have so far been unlucky in their quests for work highlighted a disconnect between applicants and hiring managers.

“It’s a candidate’s market,” said Wayne Norton, a senior recruiter with Silicon Valley renewable energy provider SolarCity. “For us, it’s really been a challenge to harden that employment base.”

The event, paid for by employer and sponsor fees but free to applicants, included a mix of employers accepting resumes on the spot and others referring interested individuals to online forms. Pay for positions advertised at the event ranged from temporary $19-an- hour election work with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters to police officer and firefighter jobs with starting salaries around $70,000.

Put on at a time of heightened focus on diversity—in corporate boardrooms and law enforcement in particular—the job fair was organized by minority-owned Southern California company City Career Fair. Marketing materials billed the event as a way to connect recruiters in an increasingly digital job market with face-to- face applicants spanning a wide range of race, gender, age, military status or disability backgrounds.

Three area police departments, several local governments and private sector employers ranging from Coca-Cola to the North Face were among those hiring at the fair.

Norton of SolarCity, who attended in hopes of filling “many” jobs for sales associates, lead generation specialists and engineers, said that both competing for new hires and hanging onto talented employees has been increasingly difficult with competition spiking since the recession.

At the depths of the economic downturn, in July 2011, unemployment in the Oakland metro area was 10.6 percent. The jobless rate was 4.9 percent this July, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows.

Recovery from those depths, however, has been kinder to some applicants than others.

“I’m looking for a retirement job,” said 67-year- old Union City resident Veronica Riggs. “I see all the ‘Help Wanted’ signs and wonder why I’m not getting calls back. I hope it’s not the gray hair.”

Riggs said she had never been to a job fair before the event in Oakland. She retired in 2010 from a career that spanned legal secretary work, hospitality and administration gigs, but said the high cost of living in the Bay Area has made it unfeasible to get by without additional income.

Others at the event were seeking a big break early in their careers. Oakland resident Dominique Foster, 29, is a master’s student in counseling and forensic psychology at Oakland’s Holy Names University. She attended in hopes of applying her interest in juvenile justice to a job in law enforcement—ideally as an Oakland Police Department officer.

“I made sure he put a star on my resume,” Foster said of her brief meeting with a recruiter from the department.

The Oakland event was one of about 30 that City Career Fair will host around the country this year, which are anticipated to draw a combined total of around 2,500 employers and 10,000 job seekers, said Neal Morrison, diversity outreach director for City Career Fairs.

While Morrison said long hiring processes make it difficult to pinpoint the career fairs’ direct job placement rate, he painted a positive picture for those who do make the cut.

“Now is a rare opportunity that if you are working, it’s a great chance to elevate your position,” Morrison said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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