Job seekers in high demand

Employers line up at county job fair
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Leader Photo by Scott Williams Employers use balloons, souvenirs and more to attract job seekers Wednesday during the state Department of Workforce Development’s annual Shawano County Job Fair at The Gathering in Shawano.

Dozens of employers lined up Wednesday in Shawano in an effort to fill job openings at a time of economic recovery and low unemployment.

Although a steady stream of job seekers turned out for the state’s annual Shawano County Job Fair, organizers and employers said there were more jobs than applicants.

That fostered a competitive environment in which companies were working to sell themselves to job seekers, rather than the other way around.

“You just have to be more creative,” said Holli Wood-Ossmann, a human resources representative for furniture maker KI Inc.

Hoping to fill more than 100 seasonal summer positions at its Bonduel facility, KI was offering job applicants a starting wage of $10.25 an hour — slightly higher than usual. Wood-Ossmann said she was pleased with the response from participants at the job fair.

“We’re reaching a lot, but we could reach more,” she said. “There’s a lot of employers here.”

The event held inside The Gathering drew more than 50 employers, including manufacturers Belmark Inc., Aarrowcast Inc. and Little Rapids Corp.; retailers Wal-Mart, Arby’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken; and others, such as the Menominee Casino Resort and Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats.

The job fair is presented annually by the state Department of Workforce Development.

Organizer Bill Schmidt of Forward Service Corp., which operates the state’s job center in Shawano, said turnout among job seekers was robust, with more than 300 attending the job fair. However, the economic environment in recent years has left many employers struggling to fill vacancies, Schmidt said.

“I can’t name a company that isn’t hiring,” he said.

The job fair included 37 employers making a return appearance from last year, along with more than a dozen new participants.

Lined up alongside one another in the banquet hall, employers worked to attract potential job applicants with colorful displays, balloons, snacks and souvenirs.

Job seeker Emma Hicks, 15, who was accompanied by her mother, tested the waters for summer job opportunities as well as possible future career ideas. The Shawano Community High School freshman ended up filling out several job applications.

“It was overwhelming at first,” she said of the job fair environment. “But then it was also nice to experience all of it.”

Some area schools delivered busloads of students to meet with employers.

In another sign that job seekers are scarce, human resource professionals increasingly are willing to train young newcomers to fill staff vacancies, Schmidt said.

Novolex, formerly known as Wisconsin Film and Bag, was promoting several positions currently available at its Shawano plant.

Ann Hendricks, human resources manager for Novolex, said she was wooing job seekers by emphasizing her company’s wages, benefits and opportunities for rapid advancement. Gone are the days when employers could simply post a help-wanted sign and wait for applicants to line up, Hendricks said.

“You really have to go out and network,” she said. “You have to tell people what you’re offering.”