In July, Missouri entered the world of virtual career fairs to connect people looking for work and businesses who are hiring. The shift from the traditional in-person fairs to the digital kind serves as a safe way to help Missourians get back into the workforce during the COVID-19 era and fill the need of employers.
Missouri has held 14 virtual job fairs this year. About 10,476 job seekers and 935 employers have participated in them. The figures could reflect some of the same individuals or businesses attending more than one fair. Regardless, Dr. Mardy Leathers, director of the state Office of Workforce Development, tells Missourinet the events have exceeded his expectations.
“Overall, we are very, very pleased with the engagement and the turnout. It took a little bit of work upfront to kind of design the platform,” Leathers says. “But we now have a model in place I think that will probably be with us going forward as another tool.”
Leathers says the events have had a steady increase in popularity over the last two months.
“I don’t know if that’s indicative of exhaustion of unemployment benefits or frankly some people are not called back to work yet. So, some of the temporary layoffs are causing people to go seek other employment. But we are definitely seeing an increase in participation,” he says.
The industries drawing the most interest have been advanced manufacturing, IT and health care. The last job fair of the year, which focused on the health care industry, gained the most attention. About 2,700 job seekers and 175 businesses showed up.
“That one just blew it out of the water,” he says. “We were really, really impressed.”
Leathers says he was pleasantly surprised at the number of people engaging in the virtual platform.
“Frankly, if you can use Facebook, you can use this platform. Now there are always issues with internet access. Certainly, we know it’s not the only way nor can it be the only way. We always have to have in-person services,” he says.
Two years ago, unemployment in Missouri was at a record low of 3%. In April of this year, the unemployment rate peaked at 10.2% as a result of COVID-19’s toll on the economy. The jobless rate has gradually declined to 4.4% in November.
Leathers says Missouri has about 385,000 workers seeking employment who are getting benefits and at least 213,000 jobs are posted on the state’s main jobs website – jobs.mo.gov.
“We know there’s a significant number of Missourians that still need work,” he says. “There’s also a significant amount of work open and that’s the story we’re trying to tell to a lot of Missourians that there is work out there, there are great jobs out there. We encourage you to think about that. We also encourage you to think about training. Now is the time to skill up. Now is the time to increase your skillset and to grow into what might be next as the economy recovers.”
The state plans to hold ten virtual job fairs from January through June of next year – two will be dedicated to health care, one to IT, another to part-time work and one for jobs that can be done remotely. Leathers says his office has surveyed participants to find out what they are looking for.
“What we have learned is we actually want to keep it more narrow,” he says. “I think what job seekers are looking for are jobs, the specific type of job. Tell me what the job is in IT. If you say project manager, that could mean a million things. What is it about project management? That’s what we’ve learned, I think, as we go into these next set of fairs. We are going to narrow the focus a little bit to try and make it more meaningful for job seekers and employers and just to be more upfront about these are the roles that you can expect to be exposed to if you participate in this job fair.”
Registration information for the job fairs will be out soon on jobs.mo.gov/return-strong.
Meanwhile, through the end of June 2021, the state is offering free online IT courses for Missourians laid off or furloughed because of COVID-19. Missouri has extended its partnership with CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association, to provide the on-demand schooling that can be completed at each student’s own pace. Those who wrap up the 8-week or 12-week training will be certified in information technology, cybersecurity or project management. For more information on how to apply, visit the web address in the previous paragraph.
Leathers says more than 450 spots are still available.
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