MANCHESTER — The state’s first-ever job fair for experienced workers drew record-breaking crowds on Friday — over 630 job seekers, career changers, and retirees, mostly middle-aged or senior workers looking for employers who can use their skills.
“It’s exceeded our wildest expectations. This shows there are seniors out there looking for work. It’s something we’re going to do on an annual basis,” said George Copadis, commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security, which organized the fair with AARP and the NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs. With employment hovering at 2.7 percent, a near-10-year low, employers are strapped to find skilled personnel, and older, retired and experienced workers are a key labor pool.
Eighty-six employers in health care, home care, marketing, financial services, auto care, transportation, law enforcement and other industries convened at St. George Greek Orthodox Church, meeting applicants armed with updated resumes who came to survey the employment landscape.
Charles Abbott, 54, of Bedford, started job hunting two weeks ago, after his government contract to produce audio books ended. He was interested in opportunities through Micro Tech Staffing of Londonderry, which serves manufacturing.
“You reach a point and then ask, what now? This will be a complete role change for me,” Abbott said. “Partly it’s a relief. I’m looking forward to doing a job you’re expected to do in the time frame. Then you get to go home at night.”
Alvaro Richiez, a recuiter for MicroTech Stafffing, said manufacturing is rebounding statewide, resulting in a ballooning call for workers of all ages, especially those with training and experience.
“There’s been a spike in business in the last two to three years,” Richiez said. “We have a lot of jobs and not enough applicants.”
Roger Turner, 64, of Bedford has worked in financial sales for 10 years, and said he’s weary of pressure and constant travel.
“I’d like to be a financial analyst, but the sky’s the limit,” he said. “Having folks here see we have a lot on the ball, that’s encouraging. For me, the end of the road is approaching, but it doesn’t have to be a cliff.”
Dottie Prakop of Hampton, laid off after decades working at Timberland apparel, came to find something clerical or administrative — “anything as long as I’m not sitting still. Can’t it be both a paycheck and something I enjoy? I’m a people person. I want to be able to converse with customers or other employees.”
Sue Douglas, 65, of Weare, worked as a barber for 30 years, then took temporary positions in manufacturing assembly.
“I like working with my hands, sitting down and putting things together,” she said. “I don’t want to sit home and watch Jerry Springer, that’s for sure. I want to keep busy and go to a destination every day.”
Along with employers in health care, customer service and other sectors, UPS and the New Hampshire State Police Marine Patrol enjoyed a constant flow of visitors.
“We don’t care how old they are. We just need someone who’s willing to work, shows up on time, and does a good job,” said Comfort Avoyinka, a human resources trainee at UPS, where wages range from $10.35 an hour for package handlers to $18.75 for delivery drivers, and $32 for commercially-licensed tractor trailer drivers.
Bethany Hanley, a recruiter for Valvoline Instant Oil Change, said automotive skills aren’t required, but employment experience is a plus.
“We can teach anybody anything,” Hanley said. “It’s hands-on and the people you work with with are really fun. We have people age 18 to 70 — a lot who want to try something different.”
Previous job fairs around the state not geared specifically to experienced or older workers have typically netted one applicant for six or seven positions, compared to one for every two jobs at this event, Copadis said.
“Employers are wildly happy about this, they’re leaving with 10 to 15 resumes,” he said.
According to a recent survey by New Hampshire Employment Security, residents 55 and older comprise more than 28 percent of the state’s work force — twice the percentage 20 years ago.
“Our older workers are an asset, a natural resource, and a competitive advantage,” said Todd Fahey, state director of AARP. “New Hampshire needs to create an inter-generational workforce so that we benefit from the talents of younger and older people.”