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A day's work: Unemployed wait hours at local job fair

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

DULUTH -- Michael Ramer, 58, has been out of work since September. The Lawrenceville resident used to work in a warehouse. He's visited several job fairs and completed tons of applications. Ramer is frustrated by unreturned calls, and thinks many employers are not looking out for the grunt workers like him.

"I've never been unemployed a week of my life. It's tough out here," he said. "I would work in a ditch if I had to."

He was one of more than 2,700 people, many unemployed, who sought work at the 2010 Gwinnett Chamber Business in Gwinnett Expo and Job Fair.

Forty-two companies, with almost 2,000 jobs available, came to the job fair, which was held from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday. This was the first increase in participation since the recession began.

"If you are looking for the silver lining, this demonstrates we are doing better than most," said Demming Bass, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Communications and Public Policy.

Gwinnett County unemployment was 9 percent in May, compared to 10 percent statewide in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce says this is partially because 190 businesses relocated to Gwinnett in the last three years, bringing 9,000 jobs.

"I am happy to see people are doing whatever it takes to get themselves exposed to employers and not sitting around and, as some people would say, just collecting a check," said Alida Hines, a former marketing researcher who was in Atlanta to network.

But many people left the job fair even more frustrated.

"They just tell you 'go to our website and apply.' Well you can do that from home without standing in a line for two hours," said Craig Rhodes of Lilburn. "You are not coming here for a job is what I see. It's more like you are coming just to refresh your memory of who might have a job out there."

Common complaints included a lack of actual recruiters to talk to, not enough employers and too many booths simply referring people to websites. Tasha Burnett, who used to work in customer service, has been unemployed since January. This was her first job fair, but she thought it seemed superficial and unhelpful.

"There's no way you can find out who's qualified with all these people," said Burnett, a Stone Mountain resident.

Other attendees said they thought the job fair was well organized and said that they were able to have success.

Mike Sandefer of Alpharetta lost his sales job five and a half months ago. He got follow-up interviews with two companies.

"All of this is good. It's been a lot of effort putting this thing out, and it's obvious there a lot of us out here who need the help," Sandefer said.

Employers who came out were surprised by the large turnout.

Chris Earnest, representing an Aflac booth, said the numbers were a good sign.

"People are more willing to look in another (career) direction," Earnest said.

Dave Neiman, the regional vice president of AmeriLife, was offering a sales position, but admitted it was tough to gauge candidates at a job fair. "A guy can come in looking like a bum but be one of the best salesmen there is," Neiman said.

Alongside employers were staffing agencies, the Georgia Department of Labor and even schools.

"People are sick of not finding jobs and realize they need a new skill," said William Spain, an admissions representative at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance.

In addition to the job expo, about 150 businesses participated in a business-to-business trade show.