Delaware job fair offers some hope

Out of work for three years, Dawn Dashiell had a very simple goal Tuesday at the first job fair she has ever attended.

The Salisbury, MD resident drove all the way to the Delaware Technical and Community College campus in Dover and battled the elbow-to-elbow crowd with the hopes of one thing.

“I’m hoping for a phone call,” she said. “With all the opportunities out here, I’m hoping that one person calls.”

The professionally dressed Dashiell joined hundreds of other job seekers – some with small children in tow, one wearing a sleeveless basketball jersey — who had packed the venue less than an hour after the doors opened.

The job fair is the second hosted by Delaware’s Congressional Delegation. The first, held April 11 in Wilmington, featured more than 70 employers and drew more than 2,200 hopefuls.

One of the hosts, Congressman John Carney (D-Del.), called Dover’s huge turnout bittersweet.

“It is sobering to say the least,” Carney said. “… You have a lot of people coming out, that’s a good thing. The fact that there are a lot of people coming out without jobs, that’s a bad thing.”

According to state Department of Labor statistics, Delaware’s unemployment rate is at 8.2 percent, with nearly 35,000 residents out of work. While those numbers have improved gradually over the past few months, it still means there are far more candidates than available jobs.

Mike Quinn of Wyoming has been to these job fairs before, only to leave feeling they promised more than they could deliver. And that is a familiar criticism, that many of the employers that show up for job fairs don’t have any current openings.

“It’s better than nothing,” Quinn said. “At least employers are making an effort to reach out. It’s just that there are so few openings and so many people applying.”

Like the Wilmington event before it, the Dover job fair included more than 70 employers. But organizers don’t know how many actual jobs were available.

“I couldn’t tell you the exact amount,” said Latisha Bracy, projects director for Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

And it’s no guarantee organizers will ever know. Bracy says they’re still trying to collect data from the April job fair in Wilmington.

“We don’t know the exact numbers,” she said. “But we have been getting a lot of thank you letters and e-mails.”

Asked if these events offer empty promises, Carney said they serve a critical need.

“I don’t know that I know the exact number [of job openings],” he said. “But I’ve gone around and I’ve talked to many of the employers here, several of whom, I’d say more than 50 percent, have jobs that are available. There are some employers here who are not hiring but it’s an opportunity for them to connect with people for when they do have vacancies that come up, which we think is a good thing as well.”

Bracy says the job fair provides other urgent services, such as workshops on resume writing and how to look for a job.

“I think just as important as having the employers here is providing as many resources as we can on exactly how to get a job.”

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