‘SWFL Virtual Job Fair’ offers opportunity at a social distance

Published: April 30, 2020 5:14 AM EDT
Updated: April 30, 2020 4:43 PM EDT

Millions of people are out of work, so some local organizations got creative to help people find jobs with a virtual career fair. But is meeting your next boss online the best way to snag your dream job? The Southwest Florida nonprofit that organized the event believes its works and will continue even after social distancing restrictions no longer apply.

Nonprofit Better Together hosted a “Virtual SWFL Job Fair” Thursday and says 500 people signed up for an opportunity to speak with employers offering job opportunities.

“It’s exciting and a new opportunity to be able to provide our community with employment to empower individuals through work,” said Christy Sanchez, the program coordinator of Better Together.

Rather than being in a large convention center, many people in Southwest Florida who are looking for jobs were be able to talk with employers through video chat. Attendees needed to downloaded the Zoom app before it began, so they could connect with employers. And each employer was given an hour window. All attendees had to do was click one of the company’s names to start interacting.

Attendee Sean Skove is among the millions of Americans out of work because of the pandemic. For about two months, he’s tried to find a new job. But finding one has been tough.

“As of right now, everyone is looking for work or desperately trying to keep their work,” Skove said.

Better Together recognized the need of those unemployed in the region, while also being cognizant of the continued need to follow social distancing guidelines. So it turned their job fair virtual.

“We have that service to be able to assist and bridge that gap,” Sanchez said.

Instead of jumping from booth to booth to see what jobs are available, people hopped around the different Zoom calls to talk to potential employers.

“It’s just very different to be doing these types of interviews and trying to ask questions from sitting here from my little chair,” Skove said. “It’s very different.”

More than 20 businesses looking to hire still met one-on-one with job seekers, just through their monitors instead.

“Usually my interviews are face-to-face, that’s where I’m most comfortable because that’s what I’m used to,” attendee Alex Hinson said.

Hinson left her job two months ago to take care of her three kids with a fourth on the way. She was among job seekers of the virtual fair.

“I’m more nervous about only being able to work until June because of my pregnancy,” Hinson said. “So any job that would allow me to work there for this month and then even continue employment after my six weeks is up.”

Hinson is among more than 800,000 Floridians now looking for a job.

“I did use my stimulus check wisely, and I did put away two months worth of rent,” Hinson said. “So for me, it’s more to have a mattress cushion because, eventually, the money runs out.”

To help ease those nerves, volunteer job coaches were available to help job applicants prepare resumes and gain confidence.

“A lot of them have so much going for them, but they just don’t realize it,” volunteer coach Ronald Cermy said. “Are they excited? Do they have enthusiasm? That’s what employers are typically looking for because they can train them in the products or in the market.”

The job fair was held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. To see more about what the virtual event was like, visit the job fair website.

The nonprofit believes this virtual version of a job fair could be the way of the future, since it’s easier to get employers and job seekers in one place. Once restrictions lift, the organization plans to hold more virtual job fairs along with in-person events.

“For me it’s really been a blessing because I don’t really have any other options,” Skove said.