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Most job fairs don’t come with burgers and hot dogs and a DJ pumping up the crowd. Maybe they should.

Friday’s job fair at Knapp Elementary School, presented by Racine County, was the first of two planned programs that are as much family picnic as they are a serious effort to connect employers with potential workers. And, to show job seekers the wide array of programs and services to help prepare for the jobs that are available today.

The county and its partners will a present second event on Friday, Aug. 31, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 1134 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. That event will be held from 3 to 7 p.m.

The job fairs feature companies from several sectors, including manufacturing, food products, and nonprofit. Some employers interview and hire instantly, while others will schedule an interview for a later date.

“These job fests are not your typical summer block parties — they offer a real opportunity for family-sustaining jobs,” said Melvin Hargrove, project manager for Racine County’s Uplift 900 employment initiative.

“It’s important to let the community know we have employers who are looking for people to employ,” added Hargrove. “These are good employers. But it’s also important to let the employers know that people are looking for work who are actually employable.”

Hargrove added: “An event like this can help by bringing them together face-to-face and have a conversation, versus over the phone or by sending email.”

Employers get results

Several employers on hand at the Friday event said it was generally worth their time and effort. Gary L. Kinsley, human resources manager of E.C. Styberg Engineering Co., said his company almost always has openings for skilled machine operators. The hiring is driven by a need to keep up with the firm’s expanding business, and part to fill gaps due to employee turnover in a competitive labor market.

“Our biggest issue is are the people we occasionally hire who just don’t show up,” Kinsley said. “They will sometimes jump jobs for $2 an hour more.”

“This has been one of the more successful job fairs for us,” said Heather Halbach, a human resources generalist with Racine Metal-Fab. “We are looking for prospects (to hire) and to bring them into our own training programs. There are a lot of people involved in our (metal fabrication) industry.”

In addition to employers and training positions, staff from Racine County Workforce Solutions provided information on county programs and resources, such as driver’s license recovery, GED/high school diploma programs and resume assistance.

Representatives from Gateway Technical College were on hand to help potential workers understand the value of adding new skill sets, from the technical to the academic. And organizations representing pre-apprenticeship programs and other skills development training for the construction trades met with those interested in learning how to get a leg up in skills development.

Ola Baiyewu, of First Choice, a pre-apprenticeship program, said his organization’s goal is to provide participants with trades-related training to move into an apprenticeship. “The program is six weeks, but it’s flexible,” Baiyewu said. “The first two weeks is about (life skills). Because if you don’t have those skills, even if you are a good worker, an employer is not going to keep you.

“For every cohort, half of them are going to become apprentices. For the other half, they may have (obtained competencies) from us. They may not be able to do the job physically, so we assist them in finding jobs in manufacturing or other sectors. We might refer them to Workforce Solutions, so they can take advantage of some other kind of training program.”

“The job fests are another way to reach people where they are and help position Racine County residents for family-sustaining employment,” said County Executive Jonathan Delagrave. “With so many exciting opportunities on the horizon in Racine County, we don’t want anyone to be left behind.”

Gov. Scott Walker visits Foxconn construction site Friday to tout job training programs.

About Uplift 900

According to Racine County:

  • Uplift 900 offers no-cost training, support services and connections to the jobs of tomorrow. Engaging and uplifting the community one person at a time.
  • Over the next few years, thousands of jobs in the fields of construction, manufacturing, logistics and transportation will be available in Racine County.
  • Workers can make $37,000 + a year within 2 years and $60,000 + a year within 5 years!

Uplift 900 will help job seekers get ready by providing:

  • Short-term training in fields including:
  • Computer Numeric Control (CNC)
  • Industrial Maintenance
  • Machine Operator Logistics
  • Transportation
  • On-the-job experience, apprenticeships
  • GED or high school credential earned in as little as 20 weeks
  • Driver’s license recovery or driver’s education
  • Math and reading tutoring

Sponsored by Racine County Workforce Solutions

Rex Davenport is a reporter, editor and editorial project manager with more than 40 years of experience in newspaper, business magazines and other content channels.