Dundalk job fair organizers see lower turnout as reflection of hopelessness

October 28, 1992|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

Thomas Wisniewski said he went to the Blue Collar Job Fair at Dundalk Community College yesterday hoping to hear words he hadn't heard in 10 years and nine months: "I want to hire you."

Ten years ago, Mr. Wisniewski, who lives in Dundalk, took a job as a maintenance repair man for a clothing manufacturer. He was laid off from that job nine months ago.

"Not being able to find work, being rejected all the time, is so depressing," he said. "You get up in the morning and you feel like you don't even exist anymore. It's only been the encouragement of my wife and my desire to work that keeps me going out day after day."

The blue-collar job fair is the third one sponsored by the community college, Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce and Maryland Job Services, an agency of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.

The first job fair in 1990 drew 426 applicants. Last year, 669 people attended. Yesterday, 552 job seekers came, far below the 800 or more fair organizers expected.

"I thought at least we would match last year's number, but the lower turnout may reflect part of the hopelessness the unemployed feel after several years of recession," said Wayne G. Ching, a job placement counselor at the college.

More than 247 people registered for the fair in the first half hour. Some wore their union jackets and blue jeans, others a coat and tie or conservative business dress.

Some, like Mr. Wisniewski, were looking for jobs to finish out their productive years. Others were mothers looking for jobs to make ends meet, or college-educated professionals looking for work. Unemployed auto workers and steel workers, recent high school graduates still looking for their first entry-level job, all were in attendance.

Clutching brochures and job applications and clinging to an almost desperate hope, they went from table to table. The Maryland Air National Guard had openings for mechanical, administrative and electronic help; Pharmakinetics was looking for chemists, phlebotomists, and nurses; Cintas Corp. wanted workers for garment sorting and towel folding.

Last year, about 5 percent of the job fair applicants got jobs, said Rebecca A. Tucker, head of the Maryland Job Service.

"That just represented the number we could track," she said. "Others got jobs that we probably didn't hear about. But if nothing else, the job fair gives people looking for work hope and a chance to talk to employers in a non-intimidating atmosphere."

That was quite a change for Mr. Wisniewski, who said, "It's real discouraging when you fill out a job application, turn it in and glance over your shoulder as you walk out to see your application being tossed into the waste basket."

Mr. Wisniewski, who wanted some kind of maintenance work, filed applications with Poly-Seal Corp., Bethlehem Steel and Owens-Brockway.

Myla Averill, a representative for Poly-Seal, said the company was taking applications but wasn't hiring. The situation could change soon, said Ms. Averill, who brought 200 job applications and gave out over half of them within the first hour.

A company representative for Owens-Brockway, maker of blow mold plastic containers, said the company had five openings.

Mr. Wisniewski, who is 54, said his age and the length of his unemployment are working against him.

"I've worked all my life," said Mr. Wisniewski, who worked nine years for a book publisher and 17 years for a stationery company. "I just want to be productive again, to do my part for society and pay my taxes."

Tricia Koltko was looking for work to help her family. Her husband is a plumber, but, she said, "those braces for the kids are expensive and sending them to college will be tough even with two salaries." She last worked in a bowling alley snack bar. But yesterday, she hoped to find work as a machine operator or in machine maintenance.

"I worked in manufacturing plants before," she said. "I happen to be real good with my hands."

Ulysses Richmond has been out of work for two months and is feeling some pressure. His wife, a Baltimore City schoolteacher, is expecting a child in January. Mr. Richmond briefly worked in maintenance for a retail-office center. Before that he was a counselor for a mental health care provider. "I'm out every morning by 7 and I often don't come home again until 4," he said. "I'm not giving up, although I am running out of bus money. I have a good feeling today, I think I'm going to get a job out of this fair."

As the crowd thinned out around noon, Mr. Wisniewski hunched over yet another job application and said, "I'll be here until my pencil wears out."

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