Will biggest job fair in Vermont history pay off for employers, economy?

Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 5:09 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2022 at 5:29 PM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont saw the largest job fair in state history in Essex Junction on Tuesday, aimed at helping to close a massive labor gap hampering the state’s economy.

About 150 employers set up shop at the Champlain Valley Expo, and organizers hoped as many as 2,000 job seekers would pass through the doors by day’s end.

A majority of the fairgoers I saw were high school students looking to snag a job. I talked with a few recruiters to see if that’s the demographic they were looking for.

“We are very entry-level. To be able to work out on the road you do need to be over the age of 18. But if you’re right out of high school we’re willing to take you,” said Michelle Phelps of ADA Traffic Control Human Resources.

“It’s not a bad thing that all of these students are here but we do need people that actually want to work Monday,” said Ryan Ahern of the Bread Loaf Corporation.

It was a young crowd with students from 18 different high schools in attendance. Half of those schools are career tech centers creating a pipeline of new workers, and the other half are high schoolers looking for internships or summer jobs.

The lead organizer of the job fair, Richard Wobby, said they hoped to match people with lifelong passions.

“We aren’t looking for jobs today, what we are looking for is careers whether it is in manufacturing, health care, public safety,” Woby said.

But missing from the crowd-- at least in the first several hours of the job fair-- were experienced workers looking for a new opportunity or perhaps returning to the workforce after dropping out during COVID.

“Right now we’ve gotten more students than current job seekers,” Phelps said.

Economic leaders say the shortage of workers has employers ready to do what it takes to draw older people back into the workforce.

“Employers are willing to be a little more flexible, create a situation that would work for a retiree who doesn’t want to work 40 hours a week but may be willing to work 15 or 20,” said Lindsay Kurrle, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

While the event Tuesday won’t bring many workers in for Wednesday, they are investing in the future. As far as whether people who retired at the start of the pandemic will come back into the workforce, that remains unclear.

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