Hopeful applicant flock to JOBS Fair here

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 23, 2002

Some came dressed in formal business attire – dark blue suit, white shirt, tie.

Others wore baggy sweat pants, a T-shirt and flip-flops.

Still others came pushing a baby carriage.

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Some went purposefully from booth to booth with an aura of confidence, while others exuded an air of quiet desperation.

Selma’s annual JOBS Fair drew scores of hopeful job seekers and a handful of area employers Wednesday at the Carl C. Morgan Convention Center. The fair was sponsored by the Dallas County Department of Human Resources and the Selma Rotary Club.

There were booths representing a wide range of prospective employers, from J.C. Penney to the U.S. Navy and from the Selma City Schools District to Concordia College. Vonn’s Products touted the possibilities of helping to manufacture its all purpose sweet ‘n’ sour sauce right next to a booth pitching the benefits of manufacturing cars at the Daimler-Chrysler. plant in nearby Vance.

A sign at the Navy booth proclaimed that “Sailors Visit Tropical Ports.” The booth for Warren Manor Nursing Home offered complimentary donuts. The nursing home booth appeared to attract the larger crowd.

Many of the attendees carried blue plastic bags into which they dutifully collected the key rings, embossed pens and pencils, and pamphlets offered by the various employers.

Donald Washington looked up from filling out yet another employment application and scanned the crowd.

“I think the city is trying,” Washington said when asked about the job fair. “But there’s just not a lot of jobs out there. There’s definitely room for improvement.”

Washington sells mobile homes, but it’s straight commission. Some weeks he doesn’t make anything. He’s looking for a job with more security. Something that offers the promise of a better life.

But in Selma right now there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs.

“The competition is tough,” Washington said. “When you go out to a job interview in Selma, a lot of times you find retirees applying for the same job you are. It’s tough.”

Washington said he’d like to get on at the Mercedes plant, but he doesn’t think he’s qualified. “I could be,” he added, “if I had the training, but I’m not right now. I don’t think most people in Selma are.”

Ronald Alexander came to the job fair to fill out an application for a teaching position at Concordia College. A native of Selma, he recently returned to the area when the environmental consulting firm he works for in Baltimore, Md., allowed its employees to begin telecommuting.

“I’m already employed,” Alexander emphasized. “I work online.”

Candy Washington hasn’t been as lucky since she moved back from Atlanta not long ago. She’s staying with her mom while she looks for work, but she’s beginning to get discouraged.

“You could at least get a job Atlanta,” she said, unable to hide her frustration. “A lot of places would hire you on the spot. Here you’ve got to wait and wait and wait.”

Washington said she was disappointed that there weren’t more jobs available at the job fair, but she was filling out applications for the places where she thought she had the best chance of getting on. “I’ll just look until I find something,” she said.

Halfway through the job fair James Walls had collected a total of 10 applications, which is about what he expected. A lot of potential employees had dropped by his booth as the line of job seekers snaked around the room, but most left again without ever asking for an application. Walls knows that at least some of the people passing by his booth probably sent up a secret prayer that fate would not one day bring them back his way.

He knows because he used to feel the same way.

Walls and his wife own the two McDonald’s restaurants in Selma. Together the two restaurants, one on Highland Avenue and the other in the Wal-Mart Super Center, employ about 110 people during peak periods.

Walls said he’s heard the jibes about McJobs, flipping burgers for slightly above minimum wage. He takes it in stride because he knows that’s not the whole story.

“Everybody jokes about flipping hamburgers,” chuckled Walls. “I did too before I started working for McDonald’s.”

That was 25 years ago. It took him only about three days on the job, Walls said, to stop laughing and start saying “wow.”

“A lot of people don’t realize that McDonald’s is a multi-national company with 29,000 restaurants in 170 countries serving 15 million customers a day,” he pointed out.

A company that size offers its employees a lot more than just the chance to flip hamburgers at slightly above minimum wage. “We have positions in advertising, construction, accounting, operations development, our legal department, communications – just about any field you can think of,” said Walls.

He added that many of the company’s top management people today started out flipping hamburgers. It’s how he started out 25 years ago. It’s the same on most jobs.

“Hey,” Walls said, “everybody starts out flipping hamburgers.”