Job fair aims to connect employers with new talent

An upcoming Hampton Roads job fair could not only help young job seekers find a position, but aid area employers struggling to hire qualified workers as well.

The Hampton Roads Workforce Council will be hosting the NextGen Opportunity Fair on March 7. The event gives teens and young adults ages 16-24 a chance to meet with full-time and part-time employers, as well as find volunteering and educational opportunities, said Christina Brooks, senior director of youth services for the workforce council.

“There will be internships there and apprenticeships,” Brooks said. “It’s really the full range of opportunity.”

So, in addition to finding full-time work in the construction or health care industries, a young person might also learn about secondary education at a community college or seek out volunteer work at the Virginia Zoo, Brooks said.

Tristan Lee, operating partner with a local Jersey Mike’s Subs franchise, said his business has been coming to the job fair since 2014.

“The biggest thing is it’s difficult to find people that need jobs and find them without using hiring websites,” Lee said.

Low unemployment numbers also mean a smaller pool of job seekers overall. In Hampton Roads, the unemployment rate fell throughout 2018, hitting a low of 3 percent in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Virginia, the December unemployment rate was 2.8 percent.

At a job fair, Lee said he is able to interact with prospective employees, and get a sense for how they would do in a customer service-focused position. If an attendee can carry on a conversation with him, Lee said he knows they’ll be able to do so with a customer, too.

In any industry, Brooks said it’s getting harder and harder for employers to connect with fresh talent. With events like the Opportunity Fair, Lee said his franchise can hire students early, and then employ them for several years before they head off to college.

“They may work for us for six or seven years, instead of one or two,” he said.

Employees from the Youth Career Center of Hampton Roads will also be available to help navigate the fair and guide job seekers.