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Thousands Attend D.C. Job Fairs in Search of Employment

Valencia Mohammed | 7/23/2009, 12:08 a.m.

More than 5,000 District residents attended a job fair on Thu., July 16, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest that left most job seekers disappointed, yet optimistic.

More than 5,000 District residents attended a job fair on Wed., July 15, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest that left most job seekers disappointed, yet optimistic.

With 14 months before the District€s Democratic Primary, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) hosted the 12th Annual Jobs and Opportunities Fair to draw attention to the need for jobs for residents in the nation€s capital. Norton hosts the event every year for District residents because most federal and private sector jobs in the city go to regional residents.

Advertised as an opportunity for job seekers to meet with employers who offered 12,000 available stimulus employment opportunities, many of the participants claimed the event was a hoax and a waste of five hours of their day.

€This seems to have been a waste of my time. I wonder if I would have been better served using those three hours to apply for jobs online, since that is what most of the employers were telling us,€ said Lorenzo E. Sanders III, 38.

Sanders, a 2009 graduate who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of the District of Columbia, lamented the fact that job fairs today are extremely impersonal.

€I was very hopeful coming in but [disappointed] going out. What ever happened to the days of going to a job fair and really connecting with potential employers?€ Sanders asked.

Others agreed.

€Why did I bother to come down here again this year?€ bemoaned a frustrated Evon Faison, who lives in Northeast. €Norton made it sound so convincing that I actually thought it was going to be different this time. Out of every racial group in the U.S., African Americans are having [the] hardest times getting jobs. It€s just not fair,€ Faison, 32, said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm Faison€s assertion. The bureau cites the unemployment rate for the District for June as being 10.9 percent; Maryland €" 7.3 percent and Virginia €" 7.2 percent. The national average unemployment rate for June was 9.5 percent.

Norton€s staff said that 100 employers participated in the fair. However, only two employers hired on the spot: the D.C. Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) and McDean, Inc. Building Intelligence, a premier engineering and integration provider headquartered in Dulles, Va.
Sanders said that his encounter with McDean was surreal.

Sanders, who was dressed in a Navy blue pinstriped suit and a crisp white shirt, said that he approached the McDean table and launched into a short introduction, with his resume in-hand.
€Hi, my name is Lorenzo Sanders,€ he said as he handed the representative his resume.
€And?€ the clerk replied with a deadpan expression.

Astonished by the representative€s response, Sanders said that he apologized and asked if he might ask a few questions regarding potential employment. The representative never answered, rather the McDean staffer continued to stare at him, Sanders recalled. At that point the young professional decided to approach another employer.

Clois Jackson, 56, said that he applied online to DYRS in May for the exact same positions that the agency had advertised at the fair. Since he had not received any correspondence from the District agency, he decided to come in person to inquire about the status of his application. Jackson said that he waited patiently for more than an hour at the table. A DYRS representative eventually told Jackson that someone would get in touch with him within a few days.

€This is the type of work I€ve done for more than 20 years. I€m amazed that I haven€t been called back,€ Jackson said as he shook his head in dismay.

Several other experienced applicants, who approached the DYRS counter, were denied jobs on the spot and were told they had strong resumes and would be considered.
Most of the employers told job seekers to check their Web sites and apply online. Some accepted resumes; others handed out applications.

€Friends told me that it would be a waste of time from their prior experiences in D.C. It is highly unlikely that I will attend another job fair in the District,€ said Sanders, who was the senior class president of his class at UDC.

But, not everyone was displeased with the job fair.

€I thought it had potential. I met lots of possible prospects. That€s about all I can hope for right now,€ said Darrius Howard, 36. Howard, who lives in Northeast, carried a bag full of applications, literature and business cards.