Thousands caught in economic squeeze pack job fairs across Colorado |

Thousands caught in economic squeeze pack job fairs across Colorado

David Montero
Rocky Mountain News
Aspen, CO Colorado
Barry Gutierrez /Rocky Mountain NewsJob fairs around Colorado this week drew thousands of people seeking employment.

By the dozens, they filed past the scrolling blue screens advertising available jobs, past the motivational posters in the narrow hall and into a room of hope.

Except hope for some job seekers Thursday wasn’t pinned on high-end technical careers with Cadillac health insurance plans or business opportunities loaded with benefits packages.

Instead, hope was $12-an-hour jobs hauling coins around for Loomis, or $12.25-an-hour gigs doing customer service for EchoStar’s Dish Network satellite television.

It befuddled Jan DiFrancia.

“I’ve got to get a job,” she said. “But I’m not going to give myself away.”

The former securities broker stood in front of a screen full of openings at Greenwood Village, watching them loop past while wondering how she could’ve made a decision a year ago to leave a job without finding another one.

DiFrancia questioned how her skills would transfer to another profession. She certainly worried about trying to get something in securities ” given the Dow’s nose-dive into depths not seen since the 1990s.

“I remember ’87,” she said. “This is worse. You’re even hearing the ‘D’ word now.”

She dared not say that word. But the state is concerned enough about the fiscal crisis and rising unemployment that it’s getting into the economic stimulus game.

The state declared Thursday “Keep Colorado Working Day” and directed the Department of Labor to hold regional job fairs and hiring events from Durango to Colorado Springs to Denver. The state’s 63 Colorado Workforce Centers also were hosting open houses as well ” though Arapahoe/Douglas Workforce Center Programs Manager Najwa Jad said they’ve been operating full-tilt all year.

The event, which began Wednesday in some places, drew anywhere from dozens to 1,000, depending on the locale.

Jad said Gov. Bill Ritter’s plan was to make people more aware of the resources available at workforce centers.

“We are one of the biggest-kept secrets in the state,” Jad said. “We want to be seen as a resource for those who find they are in need of a jobs or are looking to learn new skills to transfer into another career.”

In the metro region, there are nearly 80,000 people on the workforce center rolls ” those who have registered and are looking for work either by choice or because it’s a condition of collecting unemployment insurance.

Colorado’s jobless rate in September was 5.2 percent, up from 4.0 percent a year earlier. The U.S. unemployment rate that month was 6.1 percent and rose to 6.5 percent in October.

State figures are expected today.

Gail Malveaux, a recruiting manager for EchoStar, said she comes to the state hiring events and can get as many as 80 resumes each time. Because of the high volume of people looking for work Thursday, she eschewed the usual one-on-one sit-downs with potential employees and instead did two general briefings with a room filled with about 30 people.

Before her presentation, Christina Kirby of Loomis laid out the job descriptions for careers with the company ” applicants need to be able to lift 50 pounds, need a clean driving record and must be flexible.

“We’re not felon-friendly,” she added.

But Jad pointed out that most days people can arrive at the workforce center and either engage in a self-directed employment search or use guidance from certified counselors. The goals, she said, are to get people into jobs making 95 percent of what they were making in their last job.

She said sometimes they succeed in getting a person into another career with transferrable skills and they can make more money.

Steve Gilbert would be OK with that, but after being laid off twice this year, he simply wants a job.

He was on hold with the unemployment office (a two-hour wait) and explained how he got a job in January with a company that went bankrupt and then just lost his job with Sears selling heating and air-conditioning units.

He has a mortgage to pay and little time to train.

“The last time things were this bad was in the late ’80s,” he said. “But I was able to bounce back then. This is much worse.”

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