From his white hair to the gold-and-navy striped tie matching his navy sport coat, Steve Sikes stood out among the crowd of 600 job-seekers at a manufacturer-heavy job fair on Tuesday at DeKalb Technical College's Covington campus. It remains to be seen whether that was a good or bad thing.
SKC's Covington plant was the impetus for the job fair as it has begun hiring workers for its new solar panel film production facility. The Korean-based company was joined by representatives from C.R. Bard, Clairon Metals, Old Castle Glass, Solo Cup and local staffing firms.
Early in the morning, the line of job-seekers stretched out the door and large crowds remained for hours. The fair could spur further improvement in the Metro Atlanta area's employment numbers, where the unemployment rate improved slightly in March, decreasing by 0.4 percent to 9.8 percent, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.
Sikes was one of the many eagerly searching for work, having been cut in a corporate downsizing at a concrete construction company seven months prior. He spent 13.5 years as information technology manager there but joined more than 1,000 fellow employees in the unemployment line as the company's business crumbled during the downturn.
Sikes hasn't had to look for a job for decades, generally being sought after to transform technology departments.
Now he's left in a job market where's he's either overqualified or doesn't meet the specific qualifications of the higher-level jobs. He also faces the "challenge of not being 30 anymore."
He's learning a new job-hunting game. Learning how to write resumes and accentuate skills in such a way to meet the requirement of the impersonal job application software making those first cuts.
Tuesday's job fair provided him with a chance to show off his personality in front of human resource managers, but he isn't the targeted type for production-floor workers. However, he knows the key for him is to keep exploring, keep trying and keep a positive attitude.
"There are a lot of people here hungry for work, and I'm one of them," Sikes said. "Many people want to and need to work. It's part of their being. Not being able to work is very difficult."
Cindy Wilder, a senior human resources manager at C.R. Bard, said a confident person, who's not afraid to go after what they want and can sell themselves, is what she's looking for in an employee.
"We're looking for professionals. Not people in cut-off jeans who speak low, don't make direct eye contact and don't offer a handshake," Wilder said. "Know what you want and sell yourself."
Wilder said she was pleased with the "crazy good" turnout and saw a lot of good candidates during the day.
That's exactly what the fair's sponsors, the Georgia Department of Labor and Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, want to hear.