ALBANY — In another sign that COVID-19 is on the retreat, the state Department of Labor hosted a large in-person career fair Thursday, with hardly a face mask to be seen.
In another sign that the pandemic-era workforce shortage isn’t over, recruiters outnumbered potential job applicants at the event.
One hundred fifty employers were present, representing almost every facet of the Capital Region economy and seeking to fill 9,300 vacancies.
Display booths filled the Empire State Plaza Convention Center and spilled out into the foyer beyond, with nonprofits, supermarkets, warehouses, a casino, banks, megaretailers, hospitals, a theme park, nursing homes, a television station and city, state and federal agencies all hoping to attract and recruit new workers.
Attendance was light during lunch hour, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. At any given time, most recruiters had tables stacked with informational brochures and promotional swag but no applicants to take it.
It was the 22nd edition of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Career Fair, and the first since the onset of the pandemic. The Department of Labor held more than 65 virtual job fairs during the COVID crisis, but Thursday’s event was in-person, part of a many-pronged strategy by Gov. Kathy Hochul to strengthen the state’s workforce and economy and rebound from the pandemic.
The DOL said 550 registered job seekers attended, 91 resume reviews were conducted, 60 on-site job interviews were held and more than 150 complimentary portraits were shot for applicants who wanted to enhance their job application materials.
Representatives of five disparate organizations who spoke to The Daily Gazette all seemed happy to be there, though some found the event more productive than others.
Hanif Cropper, talent acquisition specialist at the Center for Disability Services, said “people are gravitating toward us because they’ve heard of us before.”
The Center could hire 20 to 25 people tomorrow if possible.
“It’s a very competitive market, overall,” he said. “It has a lot to do with wages. We are a not-for-profit. We try to be as aggressive as possible but non-for-profits have a different standard than for-profits.
“We’re trucking through as best we can,” Cropper said.
Hiring bonuses have been a help, he added.
Peter Volkmann, a recruiter for Ginsberg’s Foods, had a couple of advantages over some of his fellow recruiters: Paid training and high salaries.
The Hudson-based food service supplier has a pressing need for truck drivers and will train them to receive their commercial drivers licenses. That training can cost a novice driver thousands at a commercial driving school.
For Ginsburg’s as for most employers, retaining existing employees is as important or more important than recruiting new workers, Volkmann said.
“Every single place is hiring, so if somebody doesn’t like a specific place, they could find a job really easy someplace else. What we’re doing is really focusing on the culture and the employee more, to make sure that they enjoy coming to work more, have all the tools to be successful. We just added three new CDL trainers and two trainers for the warehouse.
“We are really focused on making sure the employee feels included, comfortable and competent.”
Ginsburg’s pays its experienced semi truck drivers upward of $31 an hour and pays its fastest forklift operators $28 an hour.
Among the employers represented Thursday, Walgreens was fishing in one of the most limited labor pools and one of the largest, looking for pharmacists and customer service representatives. One job title needs a license and a professional degree, the other needs a high school diploma and a willingness to learn.
Blanca Natale, store manager of the East Greenbush pharmacy, said her store has been busier than ever through the pandemic and suffering through a tight labor market like most other Capital Region businesses.
Foot traffic was slow Thursday.
“We’ve gotten a few people who’ve shown interest,” she said, adding hopefully: “It’s only 12:48.”
Bernie Borelli, Albany branch manager of Syracuse-based Thompson & Johnson Equipment Co., said his trade — forklift sales and service — is one of those that affects everyone’s lives without them ever knowing it.
“Everything you see in this room has been touched by a forklift,” he said.
But more than the low profile of his company, what limits its pool of job candidates is lack of skills: Not enough young people set out to be mechanics and technicians these days.
And with the rapid growth of the logistics industry, more machines and their operators are needed, not fewer.
“We’re crazy busy,” Borelli said.
That’s crazy busy at the shop — not at the job fair.
By 1 p.m. he’d given out only one brochure, to a former military aircraft mechanic.
The company has to do its own training, and takes on people who have aptitude but no forklift-specific experience or skills.
“If they show us the energy, that they’re willing to learn, they’re the most successful tech,” Borelli said.
He was offering a thousand-dollar toolkit as the sign-on bonus for the entry-level Tech 1 who will be doing a lot of learning on the job, and $2,000 and $3,000 for the more-advanced Tech 2 and Tech 3.
For the healthcare industry, the general shortage of workers was compounded by a significant number of people who quit the medical field due to burnout amid the COVID crisis.
On Thursday, New York Oncology Hematology was looking to fill every role from telephone operator to registered nurse.
NYOH Compliance Manager Kris Pelerin said the front-office staff are in particular demand.
“We’re feeling the pain just like every other healthcare facility. It’s a big need in our region and really across the country.”
Pelerin is asked how many people she would hire tomorrow, if she could.
“Fifty,” she said.
Office Manager Stephanie Lape nudges her and whispers something.
“Fifty to 55,” Pelerin corrects herself.
But the career fair is a success for New York Oncology Hematology.
“We have an on-site interviewer here, and I think we’re up to 10 interviews,” Pellerin says. “One of them was an RN, the rest of them have been front-office positions, reception, scheduling.
“We pretty excited. We’ve never done a job fair before but we felt this would be beneficial, and it really is.”