The coronovirus pandemic makes traditional job fairs, where job seekers meet face to face with prospective employers in an enclosed space, risky business for participants.
So ConxusNEO, the Northeast Ohio job-connecting organization, and its Akron-area partners are experimenting with a jobs and training fair on Oct. 20 that will be virtual. Virus-free face-to-face interactions with as many as 25 employers will take place over cellphone and video screens, not booths, tables and desks.
The focus will be on helping local residents who largely have been left behind economically or are underemployed to find well-paying jobs that offer advancement, among the top goals of the Elevate Greater Akron initiative.
Organizers know that about 75% of open jobs are filled through networking, said Sue Lacy, president of ConxusNEO.
But the vast majority of people they want to reach don't do the kind of networking that results in hiring, she said. The RAISE initiative, which stands for Reach, Access, Inform, Support and Elevate, aims to change that, she said.
RAISE takes its partners' resources and goes directly into those neighborhoods where there is little to no networking, Lacy said.
“So fundamentally, that is what this is about,” she said. But because of the pandemic, the program's neighborhood networking will largely be taking place virtually, not in person.
RAISE partners know that many people in these neighborhoods don't have a lot of money and may not have internet or Wi-Fi access, Lacy and others said.
So they developed the virtual jobs fair using the Brazen technology platform that is cellphone friendly, meaning no internet is required to take part.
People who want to use the internet do have non-home options. Akron Public Schools and the city's library branches will serve as Wi-Fi hot spots, meaning people can sit in their cars in a community learning center or library parking lot and use a phone, tablet or laptop to join the jobs fair.
ConxusNEO and its partners successfully tested the virtual jobs fair concept this past summer with a smaller-scale program involving local hospital systems, Lacy said.
The upcoming program will focus primarily on connecting people in Akron's predominantly Black neighborhoods, she said.
RAISE and the virtual jobs fair align well with Elevate Greater Akron goals, said Robert DeJournett, vice president for opportunity and inclusion at the Greater Akron Chamber.
“Really, this is for everybody to have an opportunity,” he said. “But we know from the report, the research, that the Black population has been excluded from some opportunities, so we do have to be intentional around lifting up the largest minority group in our county, which is African Americans. ... One of the things about this initiative is that it is really intentional about getting into the neighborhoods.”
Elevate Greater Akron's research shows there are as many as 13,000 skilled and educated people in Akron who don't have jobs, and about 60,000 people who are underemployed, he said.
Researchers said their data show Akron ranked among the 10 worst metro areas in the nation from 2005 to 2015 in the Black unemployment rate and among the five worst metro areas for a decline in Black earnings.
This isn't just about trying do the moral thing but also the right economic thing, because research shows that greater diversity means businesses are more profitable, DeJournett said.
Helping people get jobs with a living wage and improve their skills and training has been a focus of the Urban League locally and nationally for many years, said Teresa LeGrair, president and chief executive officer of the Akron Urban League.
"These sort of initiatives, they align so well with what our mission is," she said. "It's just being intentional about identifying ways to connect people to jobs and to connect people to training."
Christine Marshall, executive director of the Summit and Medina Workforce Area Council of Governments, a RAISE partner, said the upcoming program offers opportunities also to people who have lost jobs because of the pandemic, The Ohio Means Jobs Center for Summit & Medina Counties, which provides free jobs and training services, also is helping with the program, she said.
They are doing direct outreach to people who are out of work and help them get additional training if needed for a better job, Marshall said.
The RAISE program helps take the services of the Ohio Means Jobs Center into neighborhoods and to disenfranchised residents, she said.
"Being able to take our services on the road is a huge benefit working with the RAISE community," she said.
Virtual training and education booths will also be available to provide information on academic, certificate and workforce programs. They will also share information on financial aid where available, such as Stark State College, University of Akron, Akron Urban League, and OpenM.
Participating employers include Huntington, Summa Health, Americhem, Main Street Gourmet, Landmark Plastic, Akron Public Schools and others.
People wanting to take part in the jobs and training fair need
to register online first at https://tinyurl.com/y2h5b5o8.