Thousands seeking work attend Macon job fair

With 5,500 or so people milling around, looking for work on the floor of the Macon Coliseum on Sunday afternoon, musician Jimmy Mills was doing his best to set their job searches to jazz.

Talk about a tough crowd.

The Jimmy Mills Trio, situated just off the arena’s back entrance, beneath a scoreboard and not far from the “Skate at Your Own Risk” sign, was hired to help set the mood at the Middle Georgia Career Expo and Job Fair.

“I really don’t know what to play,” Mills said with a smile.

Hey, anything but the blues.

He and his band mates are usually a quartet, but the job fair could only spring for a trio. Which was fine. Mills said the group, like the scores of job seekers waltzing by, was trying to get noticed.

“We’re trying to drum up business, too,” he said.

The Georgia Department of Labor event filled the floor of the Coliseum and the adjoining Wilson Convention Centre. Job hunters could learn how to write résumés, check employment listings, get interview pointers and apply for openings that some of the companies there were offering.

The job fest had no shortage of attendees looking for work. More than 84,000 laid-off workers filed first-time unemployment claims in Georgia last month alone.

Department of Labor officials estimated that 5,500 people turned out Sunday. But there certainly weren’t that many jobs being offered.

Companies promoting themselves and their job openings ranged from truck-driver training outfits to the U.S. Army.

One worker at the expo joked, “I’ll give you my job on one condition — you can’t give it back.”

The Internal Revenue Service appeared to be hiring. One of its slogans: “It all adds up. ... A great life!”

Avon tried to put a happy face on the job market: “Hello Tomorrow.”

One company’s banner said it offers employees “an environment of teamwork, unity and community.” The company, by the way, runs three privately-operated state prisons.

The event’s atmosphere was part trade show, part job-search theme park. The only roller coaster: the economy.

Employers were handing out peppermints, pens, candies and paperwork.

One booth set up to help job searchers “dress for success” had a framed message on its table: “Life isn’t fair – get over it.”

One employer could be heard telling a woman that “a lot of salesmanship is attitude.”

“What’s your goal?” one employer asked a man.

At a truck-driving-school booth, a company rep told a prospective applicant, “We don’t need no more trainers. We need trainees. ... Maybe somebody can steer you in the right direction.”

A sign on the trucking company’s booth read, “No jobs ... just careers.”

David Maddox of Jones County, though, said he was looking for just about “anything to keep myself busy.”

Maddox, 33, worked in industrial maintenance until he was laid off from a local distribution center last October.

He said he was disappointed that “not a whole lot of local companies are here willing to hire.”

But, Maddox said, “Of all the job fairs I’ve been to, this one’s about the best.”

Kenneth Alligood, 41, an out-of-work truck driver, said most of the job openings he saw required “too much experience or college degrees.”

Alligood, of Macon, thought the job fair was “a real good gesture,” however.

Clarence Hill, a retiree from Warner Robins, wasn’t so impressed. Hill, 67, said he was looking for a job to keep him occupied.

He said the expo, sponsored in part by WMAZ-TV, was “played up to be more than what it is. As I walk around, I don’t see too many people offering jobs. ... They just tell you how to go about filing for jobs.”

Hill said, “It’s just a showcase for the Labor Department. To make it look like they’re doing something.”

Job hunter Kenneth Ezell of Fort Valley lost his job as a food-service director at a college in Augusta this year.

Ezell, 44, said he found a few promising leads Sunday, from Dollar General, a distribution center and an elder-care facility.

“I’ve been educated here,” Ezell said. “I know a lot more than I knew.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.