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Employers, job-seekers meet at Bemidji Regional Job Fair

BEMIDJI – Bridging the gap between employers and job-seekers was the goal of a job fair Thursday, but the chasm that exists in Connie Fellows’ employment history has proved to be a detriment to the Tenstrike woman. 

Fellows last worked five months ago, and it isn’t for lack of effort that the 56-year-old has failed to find work. Making the problem worse, ironically, are those five months worth of dutiful searching and applying, cold-calling and e-mailing.

“The problem is that they want you employed if you’re looking for a job,” said Fellows, one of a few hundred who attended the Bemidji Regional Job Fair sponsored by Greater Bemidji, the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Workforce Network. “But if you have a job, you’re not necessarily looking.”

More than 20 employers were available to accept resumes, explain their businesses and conduct interviews at the event, hosted at the Sanford Center. They represented several industries: tourism, service, healthcare, manufacturing and retail, among them.

Dave Hengel, Executive Director of Greater Bemidji, wandered the hall, sipping black coffee and taking in what is only the second job fair in recent history. The previous event was in November.

“There was some kind of disconnect between employers and job-seekers,” he said. “I just got very frustrated seeing the number of employers coming to me and saying they’re looking for people, and at the same time looking at employment numbers.”

For Bemidji, that number is 8.5 percent, representing the unemployment rate here.

“Hopefully, this will help bring them together,” Hengel said.

Nationally, the rate is almost a full percentage point lower – 7.7 percent in March, according to the U.S. Department of Labor – than the 8.5 percent in Bemidji.

“But that doesn’t count the amount of people who have stopped looking for work,” Hengel said. “What we call discouraged workers.”

Fellows previously worked as a customer service representative for Regional Elite Airline Services. The wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta Airlines kept her employed in Bemidji for the last 16 years. Elite was bought out by Delta Airline Services – another wholly-owned subsidiary – in Nov. The buyout would have allowed her to keep her job, but with a significant reduction in benefits and wages, she said.

“It’s a process of looking first for jobs that meet my qualifications, and adjusting from there.”

The job fair succeeded in bringing Fellows together with 43-year-old Pam Dyrdahl. The two women sat at a table, filling out piles of applications laid in front of them. Dyrdahl is preparing for unemployment: the auto repair shop at which she works will soon do away with her position. Within weeks, she said.

At five months and counting, Fellows shared a piece of her experience for the yet-to-be-unemployed Dyrdahl.

“It’s starting to get to the point where employers look at you and say ‘well, you haven’t been working in months,’” Fellows said, the pen in her hand destined for inking another round of applications. “And that’s the scary part.” 

Justin Glawe
Reporting on crime, courts and Beltrami county government. Follow me on Twitter @JustinGlawe.
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