Originally created 04/15/04

Expo draws nearly 1,000 applicants seeking jobs



Though the din echoing from Augusta State University's Athletic Complex didn't have anything to do with sports Wednesday, the event inside had all the drama and competition of a championship game.

And instead of trophies, the prizes are jobs.

A job expo, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Labor, drew close to 1,000 area students and job seekers of all ages at a time when companies are starting to hire again after years of layoffs and downsizing.

Nationally, 308,000 new jobs were created last month - the biggest tally in four years. Even employment in the manufacturing sector fared better, halting 44 months of declines by breaking even.

The turnaround comes as a welcomed one for President Bush, who's on course to be the first president since Herbert Hoover led the country from 1929 to 1933 to see more jobs lost than gained under his administration. And in an election year, political pundits say that sort of track record might prove to be Mr. Bush's Achilles' heel.

Greenbrier High School student C.J. Green, like most his age, says the issue of ample jobs is more about having some pocket change than who he'll vote for in November. Still, the 18-year-old junior wasn't any less serious about exploring his options.

"I'm looking for part-time, full-time, summer jobs, you name it," said Mr. Green, who added that he had talked with representatives of upscale retirement home Brandon Wilde and grocery chain Food Lion. He and a classmate were also looking over material at the Augusta Technical College table. "It's never too early to start looking. College is good but so is work, and I'll take what I can now."

Mr. Green and hundreds of area high school students bused to the sports complex fanned out across the upper level of the gymnasium to about 40 job booths, including area employers Home Depot, John Deere and Knology.

Special sections also were set up for one-on-one advice on writing résumés and workshops on how to land an interview.

By all accounts, the turnout was high and some hiring was being done on the spot.

Sara Odom, a manager for a local McDonald's, said that by noon she already had a stack of roughly a dozen people she hired that day. Around the same time, Sylvia Jarest had to send someone back to Walton Rehabilitation Hospital, where she works in human resources, to pick up more pamphlets.

"We have had more than 80 people come by and express interest in some of the skills we're looking for, like nurses, psychologists and physical therapists," Ms. Jarest said.

The activity jibes with a recent Manpower International survey showing that 20 percent of the companies it polled in the Augusta metro area expected to hire in the current quarter. Britt Burdette, though, didn't need a piece of paper to tell her what she has been seeing for the past half-year.

The executive for Atlanta-based Staffmark said her staffing agency has been busy for at least the past six months, turning the "employers' market into an employees' market."

Though she is a nine-year pro of such job fairs, this was Ms. Burdette's first in Augusta, as she was out to hire as many as 130 forklift operators for an as yet unnamed area manufacturer. She had already made conditional offers to 12 and was collecting résumés for the other open slots.

An ironic twist to the scenario playing out is that optimism about job prospects probably means unemployment will rise, Jeff Humphreys said.

The director of the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth said many of those out of work who had stopped looking for a position will start the job search again. That will cause the jobless rate to inch up.

"It's called the discouraged workers phenomena," Mr. Humphreys explained. "It's a sign that the search is starting to bring in results. This always happens when a recovery takes hold."

The rush back to looking last month actually nudged up the national unemployment rate to 5.7 percent from 5.6 percent as hiring figures soared.

Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or matthew.mogul@augustachronicle.com.