For the past week we've been examining education gaps for students in Northeast Ohio, especially in math and science, that reduce their competitiveness in the global economy.
Today in our series… 21st Century Schools…we spend some time with workers already out of school who are trying to get a job or keep a job in an environment where knowledge and skills are more important than ever.
ideastream®'s David C. Barnett visited a local career fair to observe the delicate dance between employer and job seeker.
SOUND: ambi from crowded gymnasium fades in UNDER
DCB: The gym at Cuyahoga County Community College's Western campus is packed with job seekers
ROBIN GENDEK (to jobseeker): What you do is make a nametag for yourself…and I'm going to give you a booklet with the contact information for all the employers that are here today. UNDER
DCB: Robin Gendeck has been running these Career Expos for the last five years, and she's noticed some changes recently.
ROBIN GENDECK: I'm seeing more employers participating than in years past. I'm seeing more employers demanding a higher level of skill from employees. I'm seeing more healthcare jobs available. There are jobs in Cuyahoga County. There are not enough people trained to do the jobs.
DCB: The job seekers mill up and down rows of tables bearing displays from a wide variety of employers, including fast food franchises… insurance companies… the military… banks… and hospitals. John Cycyk was laid off a few weeks ago, and after looking over the options here, he wonders how a former college art instructor like him is going to find work when most employers insist on education and experience that is directly related to the job.
JOHN CYCYK: For me, I wasn't really sure what to expect, because my background is in the fine arts, teaching primarily. And a majority of the institutions that are here…a lot of them initially didn't have anything to offer, but I figured you never know what can turn up.
DCB: Each table is stocked with goodies as an additional incentive to lure jobseekers. There are boxes of mints… trays of cookies… lines of water bottles. And pens. It seems like every company has a pile of pens. Regina Schmitz from Goodyear is having trouble keeping them on the table.
REGINA SCHMITZ: Oh my god, they move fast. And the blimps move way too fast. I ran out.
DCB: Many people have stopped by for "stuff", but Schmitz says few have the right stuff that she's looking for…in their education or attitude.
REGINA SCHMITZ: The intensity…the eagerness on their face…it's a little bit lacking. And it isn't just here; it's everywhere. Knowing the importance of first impression is missing.
DCB: She'd like to think this may be because many of these folks are new to the job hunt --- either due to a young age or becasuse of lay-offs.
REGINA SCHMITZ: I'm hoping with just a little more maturity, we'd see the same person in another two years and they would be ready to roll, and have the eagerness and the motivation that I'm looking for.
DCB: Samaria Harrell says she's found that a number of employers have become choosier about who they hire.
SAMARIA HARRELL: They've changed the interviewing process. At first, they would ask you, "What would you do in this situation?" And now, they're asking about an actual experience that you had. What have you done?
DCB: One thing she hasn't done is complete a college degree that she started years ago. It was something she didn't really have to think about until earlier this month, when she quit a customer service job that, she says, had become intolerable.
SAMARIA HARRELL: I actually only have nine classes left to get my bachelor's degree. But, it's been awhile since I've been in school, and I'd have to do it by 2010. So, that's one thing I'm weighing in my head --- work full time? Work part time and go to school? Because, some places will let you right through the door, if you have a degree.
DCB: As lunchtime approaches, former art teacher John Cycyk has explored every aisle, but hasn't found work. Still, he says, he HAS made a discovery.
JOHN CYCYK: There's a broad group of companies here, and I'm finding out that I can take my creative background and use it in probably a broader sense than I initially thought of. Which turns out to be pretty positive.
DCB: He got that bit of encouragement from Regina Schmitz at the Goodyear table. She didn't offer him a job, but she did suggest that he might be able to parlay his art background into work as a display designer. That's a lot different than teaching a room of college kids how to draw a bowl of fruit. But it might be a way to survive for awhile in a world where...adaptation... may be the most important skill of all.