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December 11, 2002

More than 60 employers open booths to would-be workers

From: Long Beach Press-Telegram, CA - 11 Dec 2002

By Felix Sanchez, Staff writer
LONG BEACH Hannah Ogunpola may be 65-ish but she's not about to become a burden on her grandchildren. Not when she's got a lot of life and energy still in her.

And all Patti Kolpa wanted was for the 30 or so deaf or hard-of-hearing clients she escorted to the Long Beach Convention Center Tuesday to get a fair shake.

The widely disparate pair, both with common goals getting employment, for either themselves or those they cared about were at the center's banquet hall for an annual job fair sponsored by the Long Beach Workforce Development Bureau and the Press-Telegram.

More than 60 regional and national companies and organizations set up booths at the free event that attracted more than 3,000 people who were either jobless or seeking better employment.

Many were like Ogunpola, who still believes she has something to contribute in the working community despite her age.

"I just think I should not be wasting away at this age. I enjoy working. I have kids but I don't want to be a big weight hanging around their necks,' Ogunpola said as she walked away from a booth run by the Long Beach Police Department.

"I can work. I want to work.'

Ogunpola has been an institutional cook with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, a restaurant manager in her native Nigeria and a chief catering officer at a university.

Shawnee Pickney, a May 2002 graduate of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, is putting her faith in dazzling potential employers with her educational credentials and personality.

She said she is tired of companies that constantly demand online applications and resumes sent by e-mail. What happened to the days of face-to-face meetings, she wondered.

It's a contradiction even some job fair organizers were admitting on Tuesday: Too many companies are requiring online applications and resume submissions when the jobs available are blue-collar and lower-paying positions that will be filled by the very people who can't afford computers or may not know how to operate the technology.

The nation's unemployment this month posted a surge, from 5.7 percent in October to 6 percent in November, matching an eight- year high for joblessness set last April.

Kolpa was at the convention center doing whatever it takes to keep her clients from having their options limited even though they are deaf. She is a career development specialist with Community Rehabilitation Industries at the Career Transition Center in Long Beach and was helping fellow deaf persons maneuver the job fair and get interviews for potential employment.

Sometimes companies can be hesitant about hiring the deaf, but with each passing year, more progress is made, said Gabrielle Curtis- Hopkins, an employment consultant for the deaf with Goodwill People Works.

"One of the hardest parts for the deaf are the barriers people think are there,' Kolpa said.

New to the job fair this year are tracking systems that will allow employment agencies and fair organizers to determine how many people are actually hired because of the event.

The fair normally would cost about $15,000 to sponsor but because the city of Long Beach donated the convention center without a fee, the job fair was able to lure a good range of potential employers to set up booths without charge, said Gina Perez, a city business services representative with the Workforce Development Bureau.

Some job fair volunteers and participants remain skeptical, saying privately that many employers claim they have openings they want to fill a job fair requirement but really are just compiling resumes.

Copyright © 2002 Long Beach Press Telegram