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Blacks Still Unemployed as Economy Attempts to Rebound

Ivan Thomas | 10/13/2010, 1:09 p.m.

National Black MBA Conference Offers Advice, Opportunities

Despite a recent declaration by the National Bureau of Economic Research that the recession officially ended in June 2009, most Americans are still feeling the effects of the economic downturn. The unemployment rate continues to hover around 10 percent, and more than 25 percent of Black Americans are out of work according to some reports, to many the economy seems to be as bad as ever.

Using those statistics as a backdrop, the focus centered on education and professional development during the 32nd annual National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) Conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Sept. 21 through Sept. 25.

This year's theme, "BLINK: The Speed of Change," attracted top executives from more than 400 companies who attended the conference and participated on panels, hosted receptions, and talked with job seekers about employment opportunities. Employers hoped to fill as many as 2,000 open positions nationwide.

William Wells, Jr., chairman of the NBMBAA, said that he recognizes the challenges African Americans face and expected the conference to give those who attended a leg up.

"Events like the career fair give those in attendance a great advantage over other applicants," he said. "They are getting face to face time with leading corporations and recruiters. That cannot be duplicated by applying for jobs online."

Oscar Mardis, president of the NBMBAA's Washington, D.C., chapter viewed the conference as an excellent opportunity to address issues that plague the Black community. Since unemployment and poverty are on the rise, conversations about these problems are critical and those who think that the recession has ended are out of touch with reality, he said.

"I don't know where they are getting that from," Mardis said.

"Most people are trying to achieve the American Dream, and if you look around, you can see that many people, especially African Americans, are far from reaching it. How can you accomplish that when we are in a transition like this?"

In the nation's capital, African-American unemployment is as high as 30 percent in some areas. Those numbers mirror the circumstances of Blacks across the nation. Mardis and his group try to assist wherever they can.

"We do our best to help those who are unemployed and under-employed. Some people have jobs but still cannot make ends meet," he said.
Mardis said that many of the people he works with are entrepreneurs and people with Doctorate and law degrees and they are having trouble finding work.

Despite the economy, some organizations have continued to thrive, and they used the conference to build their companies and to obtain access to a diverse group of candidates. They also dispelled the notion that no one is hiring in this economy.

"Nationwide is in a unique position. We are actually growing, and our strategy is to continue growing," said Gale King, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Nationwide Insurance.

"We have weathered the storm because we had good fundamentals in place, and we are in a place where we are hiring."

King recognizes that Blacks have in fact found themselves left out of many quality jobs during this period and she offered some invaluable advice.

"The key is to develop strong relationships and to make sure that your skills are transferable," she said. "For young people, I think internships are good and talking with companies about what opportunities they have. Don't limit yourself to one type of job. Sometimes the specific job you are looking for may not be available, and you do not want to lock yourself out."

Jeffrey Hatchell, director of business development for American Express, agreed with King on the importance of building strong relationships.

"I am a big believer in networking, he said. "Treat it as if it is a job getting a job. It takes work and effort. It is not going to happen by happenstance."

He also encourages people not to be timid, but to be assertive in expressing their needs and wants.

"It is critical for us to leverage our strengths and not be afraid to let people know what we want and what we need," Hatchell said. "It is very competitive to get a job, so we have to bring our 'A' game and be strategic. It is more important now than ever before."

For companies, Philip McKoy, vice president for development for Target, said that the NBMBAA conference is a place to find top prospects.

"When we come to a conference like this, we are putting our money where our mouth is," McKoy said. "Part of our strategy is if you want to be a relevant employer building a diverse workforce, you have to go where the talent is."

The NBMBAA conference certainly didn't have a shortage of talent. However, opportunities like this only occur once a year. If a diverse workforce is to be achieved, both corporations and prospective applicants need to make a concerted effort to be consistent, and to go above and beyond the call of duty, conference organizers said.

"In order to maintain your competitive advantage, stay ahead of the game, and continue progressing towards personal and professional goals, you must be able to adapt in the blink of an eye," Wells said.