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04.21.10

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Report from the Trenches

Recent North Bay job fair a microcosm of the unemployment scene

By Ruth Bird

Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey and her office organized a job fair on April 1, from 9am till noon at Petaluma's Veterans Memorial Hall. The event hosted 50 businesses from Marin and Sonoma counties, some home-grown but with a national footprint, like Amy's Kitchen, and others with a global presence, like BioMarin, a pharmaceutical company out of Novato. Safeway, Wal-Mart, AT&T, UPS and Goodwill Industries were also there.

Employment services, both private and state-funded, participated, as did the Small Business Development Center of Santa Rosa Junior College. The center assists small business by providing counseling, low-cost workshops and a resource library. The Women's Initiative for Self-Employment had a booth offering similar services representing a major theme of the Job Fair: put yourself to work by starting a business.

By far the most popular booth was Whole Foods Market; they had fresh fruit and vegetables. Every booth tried to have a little something for us, like miniature Tootsie Rolls or pens, but the most popular giveaway was ChapStick. Practically every other table had ChapStick in bowls like trick-or-treat candy. I was not able to discover the significance of this, a failure for which I apologize.

In spite of all the warning in terms of the national unemployment figures, the employer representatives seemed to be a little unprepared for the size of the turnout. By 11am, everyone was pretty well out of everything—handouts, business cards—really, the only things left were a couple of artichokes at the Whole Foods table. What there was no shortage of were résumés. I myself came armed from Kinko's with 40 fresh copies of three entirely different résumés, ready for multiple potential employment situations.

And thus emerged the second major theme of the Job Fair: no one wants anyone's résumé any more. Two people took mine—two out of the dozens of people I spoke with.

The new job search is done online. You, the job seeker, go to their, the employers', website and submit an electronic résumé. No face to face, no telephone chatting, no way of knowing if anyone will ever see your résumé. The representative at the IRS booth explained to me that it was a kind of first-come, first-served situation. One job posting could generate more than 600 responses. The selection is made from among the first 100. I volunteered to sort through the other 500, but she told me they were only hiring auditors right now, and to please apply online.

Another big theme was networking. What was unsaid, but I think implied, is that in this job market you have to know somebody who knows somebody to crawl to the top of that résumé heap.

Angela, another attendee, said that she has sought temporary refuge at the Santa Rosa Junior College, where she is receiving a government stipend to go back to school and learn a trade, in her case, commercial design. It's fun, challenging and makes up a large part of her social life—but she still needs to look for work.

I got there late. Of the types of unemployed—that is, the merely discouraged and the hopeless—I waffle between the two. I knew I needed to attend this job fair, but was it really going to be worth wearing stockings and makeup?

The answer, of course, is yes. Any effort we make for ourselves to look for work is going to produce more than no effort at all. What that requires is faith, an ability to maintain hope. And somehow, this (very few) jobs fair did inspire hope. I had a great conversation with Alan Bouverat from Experience Works, a program for seniors at Sonoma County Job Link, who gave me a card and told me to call. About a job. Face to face.

I almost cried. Thank you, Alan, and thank you, Lynn Woolsey.

In the meantime, there is always the post office. Oh, right—not anymore, they have a hiring freeze on.

Ruth Bird escaped sane after 20 years in Hollywood by the skin of her teeth, and is surviving in Sonoma County by the skin of her teeth as a story editor, editor and writer.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.


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