Job fair attracts crowds at Wadena National Guard Armory
Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program Inc. hosted a job fair on April 12, 2023, at the Wadena National Guard Armory that was open to students and then, later that day, to the public.
Curiosity, hope and excitement were not in short supply at the job fair hosted by Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program Inc. at the Wadena National Guard Armory on Wednesday, April 12.
Wadena-Deer Creek High School students and friends Kay Leeberg, a sophomore, and Kieza Chandler, a junior, were among the many who talked to prospective employers and colleges.
“My (school) superintendent suggested that all sophomores and juniors attend, so I thought it'd be interesting to see what kind of jobs are out there,” Leeberg said.
The 16-year-old Leeberg already has a job, actually, working as a server at The Uptown on Jefferson Street South and Colfax Avenue Southeast in downtown Wadena.
“I actually want to do cosmetology,” Leeberg said. “I like experimenting with things, I like to touch, I like to do hair and I like to make other people feel good about themselves.”
Leeberg and Chandler were making the rounds together, and had stopped at the informational table for Seasons Adult Foster Care in Staples. Like many other businesses at the job fair, the foster care representative offered free candy, pens and more as enticements to sign up.
“I like working with people and I like making them feel like they have someone to go to if they want to talk to anybody. … I feel I'd reach out to them and see if they need anybody because I’d really like to help other people,” Leeberg said of making a pitstop at the foster care provider.
About 200 students from areas such as Wadena, New York Mills, Sebeka, Bertha, Verndale and Staples were invited to explore careers, and speak with employers about summer work or after-school jobs – students like Chandler – while the public was invited to attend afterward.
“I thought it would be interesting to see all the different jobs I could do when I'm older,” Chandler said. “I think it's pretty cool that you can get some hands-on stuff and just talk to people, instead of going out and just asking for an application.”
The 17-year-old Chandler already works at The Meadows of Wadena-Senior Living, an assisted living and memory care facility.
“I think it’s something I want to pursue further,” Chandler said. “I kinda want to go into, like, human services.”
Representatives from Astera Health, Barrett Petfood Innovations, Central Lakes College, Perham Health, Mason Brothers Wholesale Grocery, Minnesota Department of Transportation and Wadena County Human Services, just to name a few, were on hand at the four-hour job fair.
“We like to help employers get employees,” said Evelyn Fowler, team leader at Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program Inc. of Wadena. “COVID probably was the biggest culprit. With all the extras that they gave off for unemployment, people are doing OK.”
And as if the more than 30 employers at the job fair were not enough, the Big Ideas semi from New Ulm was parked outside the armory; inside the semi, attendees could explore more than 20 virtual reality jobs, from welding to heavy equipment operating.
“People are closing because they don't have enough staff,” Fowler said of business owners. “Nobody can keep staff so we're trying to educate the public. We're trying to help them with resumes and how to get out there and search for jobs.”
Resume and job search classes were offered for free at the job fair, and Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program had job counselors on site to help if anyone had questions about writing resumes and cover letters.
“We're working with students so that we can hook them up with summer jobs after school and help them to get into the workforce because, obviously, they are the workforce coming up, so we want to get them excited about working,” Fowler said.
"Also, we have other services we do beyond helping job seekers. We offer many employer programs through grants to help them grow and sustain their business."
Jessica Nichols is the human resources plant representative for Trident Seafoods, which includes a Motley location, and she was among the many prospective employers at the job fair.
“I've done HR for quite some years and I just love the recruiting process at it,” Nichols said. “I love seeing new faces and getting new talent.”
The Motley plant has 135,000 square feet of processing space and is North America’s largest producer of surimi seafood products, with an annual capacity of over 100 million pounds, and employs upwards of 400 full-time team members at full capacity.
“A lot of people don't know that one of the biggest production facilities in Minnesota is located right down the street in Motley,” Nichols said. “And what we are looking for (in a job candidate) is someone with a good work ethic, someone that's going to show up and really be responsible.”
FRANK LEE is a features writer for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. He may be reached at 218-631-6470 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .