USCL job fair draws a crowd

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By Chris Sardelli

More than 900 people converged at a job fair at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster on Friday.

Held at the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building, the fair was an opportunity for Lancaster residents to meet with more than 30 area companies, including Wal-Mart, Proctor & Gamble, Phillips Staffing and the city of Lancaster.

Lynda Burke, area director for the S.C. Employment Security Commission, said the crowd exceeded her expectations. Last year’s fair drew about 700 participants, so she expected to see at least 500 this year.

But by 11 a.m., only one hour into the job fair, more than 300 people had streamed through the doors. In total, Burke said 920 people came to the job fair.

“I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been with the agency for 15 years and this is about the biggest I’ve seen,” Burke said. “It was wonderful. People came to us (Monday) and thanked us for the job fair, and the employers were very happy.”

There were several workshops at the fair and all were well attended, Burke said. They included a resume workshop and an employer panel discussion.

With a decline in the availability of manufacturing jobs, Burke said call centers were this year’s most sought-after jobs.

There has been discussion among members of the Lancaster County Economic Development Board and the Employment Security Commission about making Lancaster a hub for call centers. The Lancaster area could be attractive to call centers since there are so many available workers in the county and the cost to run the centers in the area would be less expensive than other locations.  

Burke also said service jobs, such as health service and law enforcement, were also big draws at the fair.

“I’m hoping 2009 will be a great year,” Burke said. “I think with everyone working together, with call centers, with the service industry, I’m hoping it will be a good thing for the area.”

Debbie Baker, director of sales and marketing for Lancaster-based Phillips Staffing, was also at the job fair. Phillips Staffing helps place people with varied skills, from entry level or administrative to those with specific technical skills.

Baker, who has been involved in staffing for more than 20 years, said she was amazed by the participation. Almost 400 people stopped by her table Friday, dropping off resumes and filling out applications.

“There was a good level of enthusiasm,” Baker said. “I haven’t seen this level of unemployment in my tenure in the staffing industry.”

Baker said her agency will follow up with most of the people who stopped by her table, and may ask many of them to fill out full applications. She hopes word will get out about all the available workers in the area.

“We hope businesses hear about this and decide that Lancaster is a good place to come to,” Baker said.

The fair was sponsored by Catawba Regional Workforce Investment Board, Catawba Regional Council of Governments, USCL, S.C. Employment Security Commission, S.C. Department of Social Services, the (Chester) News & Reporter and The Lancaster News.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at 416-8416