More than 500 turn out for job fair

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By Frank Johnson

As Debbie Worthington packed up her belongings at the end of the Nelson County Job Fair Wednesday, she pulled out a hefty manila folder, inches-thick with resumes of hopeful job seekers.

Worthington is a human resource assistant at Bardstown auto parts manufacturer NPR and said during the four-hour fair, she received more than 300 applications. The plant will produce a new line of parts in the spring and of those hundreds of applicants, Worthington said a minimum of 10-15 will be hired.

The difference between the two numbers made the afternoon a difficult one for Worthington and Joey Smith, a production manager at NPR, who also manned the company’s booth. The two said they heard many stories about the struggles people are having in finding work.

“You kind of want to help everybody, but you can’t,” Smith said.

The job fair, sponsored by the Nelson County Economic Development Agency, drew an estimated 570 employment seekers. The turnout surprised organizers, who expected a crowd of about 300 and ran out of informational sheets after the 500th person walked through the door.

“We have been talking about the 10 to 12 percent unemployment rate now for the last year, but it becomes real when you actually put a real face to that number,” said Kim Huston, NCEDA president.

Huston said the event was a success, bringing local companies together with those who were looking for work. She added that many of the businesses there asked if the job fair could be done on annual basis.

“If the need continues to be there, we certainly will,” she said.

Twenty-four companies were represented at the event, ranging from service companies such as Wal-Mart and Quiznos to manufacturers such as Toyotomi and NPR. Advantage Staffing, Peebles, Kroger, Orbis, Sykes and Skaggs Limousine and Transportation also had booths.

One of those job seekers was Jason L. Overall, 30, a former Louisville resident who moved to Bardstown in hopes of finding a better job market.

“They say you can find jobs better here and faster here than in Louisville,” Overall said.

Although Overall was able to find jobs at Jim Beam and then at Orbis, neither lasted, so he has frequently found himself back on the job hunt.

Besides the lack of steady income, the worst part of it all, Orbis said, is the waiting. As an explanation for his off-and-on joblessness, he expressed the thought held by many of the unemployed circulating among the tables.

“The economy is not in the place it is supposed to be at,” he said.

With Nelson County’s unemployment rate at 12 percent in December and the national number stuck stubbornly around 9 percent, job growth has lagged behind a rising stock market and reports of strong corporate earnings.

Tony Robbins, a client services manager with the Lincoln Trail Career Center, said he calls this the “trickle up” effect. Robbins explained that the job growth is not occurring nearly as fast as the pace of job losses during the recession. Hiring is happening, but it’s going slowly. Still, Robbins said he has some signs for hope.

“Six months ago, it was bleak,” Robbins said. “I think it is trickling a little more every day. Employers are showing a little more interest.”

Unfortunately, this job growth will need to be more like a torrent than a trickle. It has to make up not only for jobs lost due to the recession, but also for new people entering the work force such as Bethlehem High School class of 2008 graduates Dailey Kelley, 20, and Tyler Kute, 20.

Like Overall, Kute said the hardest part has not necessarily been finding a job, but finding one that lasts. Kute was just laid off from the shipping and receiving department of Chegg.com, an online retailer of college textbooks.

“It was a big letdown. It was just last-minute,” Kute said.

The pair agreed that finding work in today’s market with nothing but a high school diploma is a difficult task. With so many people on the hunt, it can be tough to stand out from the pack of applicants.

“It is hard to be in the perfect spot when there is always someone with more to offer,” Kelley said.

The two have held a variety of jobs since graduating, mostly in the manual labor and landscaping fields. The shifting seasonal nature of these positions (“Winter is what kills me,” Kute said) has pushed Kute and Kelley to seek further education.

Kute will enroll in Elizabethtown Community College in the summer to train as a diesel mechanic while Kelley is looking into the United Technical Institute. Just having a high school education, Kelley said, “it’s not real promising.”

The rocky job market also meant the fair attracted people from outside Nelson County, such as Elizabethtown resident B.J. House. House is a single mother with two teenage daughters and she said the tough economy is straining her family’s budget.

“It’s very frustrating,” House said. “You wonder if you are going to be able to pay your bills and keep your house.”

At 37, House said she has worked a variety of factory and warehouse jobs in her life, but she has seen those kind of jobs disappear through the years.

“It was a lot easier 10 years ago or even five years ago,” she said.

In addition to the bad economy, House said those jobs are simply leaving the country. She recently had two factory jobs back-to-back lay off the workforce and move the operation overseas.

The jobs that do remain often take the form of temporary positions, which House said may provide money in the short-term but have negative long-term consequences.

“If you have worked so many jobs through temp services, it looks like you can’t hold a steady job,” she said.

The difficulties she has experienced through the years now have House convinced she needs to go back to school and enter the medical field, which is where she feels the jobs are now.

Her two daughters, students at Central Hardin High School, are also working. For House and her kids, staying afloat as the job market slowly recovers will require a family effort.