A shift of fortunes: Fewer companies, many more job seekers attend job fair

Twice as many job seekers attended Career Assistant Network’s job fair on Wednesday as attended last fall’s record-breaking event, say organizers.

Job seekers line up outside Westerner Park’s Prairie Pavilion for the Central Alberta Job Fair Wednesday morning.

Job seekers line up outside Westerner Park’s Prairie Pavilion for the Central Alberta Job Fair Wednesday morning.

Twice as many job seekers attended Career Assistant Network’s job fair on Wednesday as attended last fall’s record-breaking event, say organizers.

And last fall’s attendance had doubled the previous record, said Charles Strachey, regional communications manager for Alberta Employment and Immigration in Red Deer.

Hopefully, unemployment numbers won’t rise enough to double attendance again the next time a job fair is held, Strachey said.

Organizers counted 4,500 attendees at Westerner Park’s Prairie Pavilion by 3:30 p.m., with two hours still to go before the doors closed, said Shaune Fandrey, an employment consultant with the network.

Her best guess for last fall’s attendance was 2,500 to 3,000 people. This time around, they put everyone through the same entry so they could keep better track of the numbers.

People were cramming the doorways even before the does opened in the morning.

“I was surprised initially, and then I realized I shouldn’t have been,” said Sue VanZandt, who was looking for a human resources or oilfield safety position.

“It took us about 10 minutes to get in the door.”

Len Peterson was also shocked by the turnout.

Brad Drechsler, president of Agrinet Management Training and Employment Services Ltd., noticed a “pretty dramatic change” in attendance.

“Certainly it looks like the employment world has changed pretty rapidly in the last 12 months.”

While the number of job hunters was up, the exhibitor tally dropped sharply from six months ago. Sixty-eight businesses and other organizations registered for this job fair, down from more than 100 previously.

“I thought there would be more businesses,” said VanZandt.

“I was hoping I would find a little more here than there is.”

Peterson, 65, said there seemed to be a lot of service companies, such as fast-food restaurants. He was hoping to find opportunities appropriate for his background in mechanical work, including small-engine repair, but said he is willing to be flexible.

“I’m not fussy. At my age you can’t be.”

Strachey confirmed the makeup of employers had changed dramatically from last fall, when there was a large contingent of oilfield service companies.

This time, only two oilfield companies took part, while other employers received stacks of resumes from people who had worked in the oilfield industry.

Ken Bouteiller, human resources manager for Proform Concrete, said he received three or four times as many resumes on Wednesday as what he had received at the last job fair, including a large number of oilfield people.

A large number of the resumes are from people will oilfield experience, which doesn’t cross over well to the concrete industry, said Bouteiller.

Joedy Sinclair, field superintendent for Eagle Well Servicing, said the picture is much different from last year, when oilfield service companies were hiring whoever they could find, regardless of their abilities.

Now, oilfield jobs are precious and people know it, he said.

“People are going to pay attention to the rules now. They know that if they don’t, their relief will,” said Sinclair.

Brad Pallister of B&M Recruitment Solutions said the job seekers he spoke with covered a broad demographic spectrum, although he noticed many were blue-collar workers.

The job reductions appear to have been spread out among a large number of companies, with none cutting too deeply, said Pallister.

Most of the people stopping at B&M’s display were from Central Alberta, although some were from as far away as Fort McMurray, he said.

Richard Smith and his wife, Hong Nguyen, moved to Red Deer from Ottawa three months ago.

With two young children in tow, Smith said he wasn’t discouraged by the crowds or the decrease in exhibitors.

“I always like to be positive.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com & bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com