Jobs fair attracts over 11,000 people at BB&T Center in Sunrise

 

moleary@MiamiHerald.com

Twenty-five years ago, Norman Garrett, 65, ran a clothing manufacturing company in New York City and earned $250,000 a year. Now, he says, he can’t get hired at Macy’s.

Garrett was one of more than 11,000 job-seekers that flooded a “mega job fair” Tuesday at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

Applicants dressed for interviews and clutching resumes lined up as much as three hours in advance. Sixty companies and 3,500 available positions waited just beyond the entrance. Job News, an advertising company that runs hiring fairs throughout South Florida, hosted the event. The company hosts job fairs once monthly throughout the year, said Tiffany Price, the fair’s manager.

This month, many of the prospective employers were retail companies including Target and Aeropostale. Job fairs are more cost-effective for retail companies because they don’t have to pay for ads or wait for people to respond to “help wanted” signs, Price said. Retail opportunities are also attractive to job-seekers because they offer stable salaries and many aren’t commission-based, she said.

Wages ranged from $10 hourly for cashier positions at grocery stores, $20 hourly for manager trainee positions, to annual salaries surpassing $70,000 for certified officers at police departments.

Price has been managing job fairs for seven years. In the beginning, mostly entry-level younger people attended the fairs. Now, in the aftermath of the recession, more seasoned and professional job-seekers like Garrett show up to make face-to-face impressions on potential employers.

After leaving the Manhattan-based clothing business, Garrett lived in Austin, Texas, where he owned two car rental agencies and four body shops. After selling those businesses, he moved to Chicago. Seven months ago he moved to Florida, where jobs have been elusive. “I had no idea I would have this much trouble being overqualified and 65 years old,” he said. His social security isn’t enough to live on, he said.

Garrett was on the hunt for teaching opportunities and sales management positions. He set his sights on positions at Sixt Rent A Car. The representative at the booth marked Garrett’s application for consideration. Then a representative from pharmaceutical company JDJ Rx told Garrett that he’d get a call about a job as soon as next week.

“They seemed serious about offering me a position because of my qualifications, but at 65, it doesn’t matter if I’m the king of Arabia,” he said.

Jobs News does not keep track of the number of people that get hired as a result of the fairs, Price said. Many potential employees still must pass background checks, and many employers schedule interviews for future dates, she said.

Attendees who pre-registered online were allowed to enter the fair five minutes earlier than those who registered on-site. Doreen Blanks, 57, who said she didn’t have computer access, came at 7 a.m. to be near the head of the line.

With 30 years of experience waiting tables, Blanks planned to apply for a waitress position at the Coral Springs location of Benihana. Though she worried pre-registered applicants would have an advantage, she soon was shaking hands with managers from the restaurant.

Benihana drew big crowds, as did Aldi grocery stores, Sears and Toys “R” Us.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department also attracted attention for its 18 officer openings. Applicants must pass a series of tests and academy training before being considered, officer Summer Lapekas said. But academy training is paid and annual salaries for certified officers can reach almost $80,000 after five or more years of full-time experience.

Despite the potential danger involved, Michael Moore, 24, was interested in the academy. But he also checked out possibilities at several automotive companies and Pollo Tropical.

The event took place just four days after the release of June jobs data. Miami-Dade saw a gain of just 6,500 new payroll positions in June compared to 2012. That figure is a fraction of the more than 20,000 jobs that were added last summer.

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