Job fair draws numbers

FOLLANSBEE — Carla Lada was hard-pressed to say whether she was more surprised by the sheer number of job seekers turning out for Saturday’s Brooke County Job Fair or the range of skillsets they represented.

“I was shocked at the amount of people,” said Lada, benefits administrator at Wheeling-Nisshin. “But it was all walks of life, not just people who had been displaced. You had the Koppers employees, of course, but there were people from manufacturing, from IT, from marketing.”

About 20 area businesses were represented at the event, which was sponsored by JSW USA and the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce with support from the Brooke County Commission and the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle.

Derek Miller, JSW recruiting supervisor, said the job fair started out as a way to help the 48 wage earners losing their livelihood when the Koppers plant closes in August, “but it kind of grew (from there).”

Miller said companies like JSW are having a hard time filling skilled labor slots.

“We need electricians, we need millwrights, we need crane operators,” he said. “We need to get enough of them in so we can start training people. But we need enough skilled labor to train the ones who don’t have those skills.”

JSW figures to employ about 500 people in Phase I of its operation, “and right now we’re somewhere around 387 or so,” he said. “We still have a ways to go.”

The shortage has a lot to do with what’s happened in backbone industries, like steel, he added.

“After places like Wheeling-Pitt closed down, there was a decade where people weren’t following in their parents’ (footsteps),” Miller said. “We lost a generation of steelworkers, we lost a generation of electricians … those 10 or 12 years that are gone, that’s a lot, so now we’re trying to build them back up.”

Lada said Wheeling-Nisshin isn’t hiring currently, but the company does like to keep tabs on the job-hunting community.

“We do take resumes all the time,” she said. “We have an aging workforce, and we’re constantly trying to expand and we like to invest back in Follansbee, invest in our community.”

Other companies taking part included Mountain State Carbon, Frontier Group of Companies, Brooke County Board of Education, Hammond Public Service District, Simon Solution and even West Virginia State Police who, one bystander noted, are trying to find prospects who can pass both the stringent physical requirements as well as the drug test needed to work in law enforcement.

WVSP is “taking applications,” is all the trooper handling the recruitment effort would say. “(Officers) are retiring and we need to get new people in. (WVSP) give you all the training.”

WorkForce WV and the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center also were represented.

Miller said the turnout for Saturday’s event was tremendous.

“It was great to speak with people who could truly be qualified for the positions needed,” he said, hastening to add, though, “this is just the first step. Now we’ll go back and look at the resumes, get them to the hiring manager” and cull through them, looking for the best and most qualified applicants.

“This is the beginning, this is what starts it,” he said.

Colliers resident Kayla Frye said she appreciated the opportunity to speak with potential employers one-on-one.

“I think this is great that we have this here, so many people need jobs,” she said, pointing out that when she arrived around 8:30 a.m. “there was a line all the way to Domino’s.”

ed at lharris@heraldstaronline.com)