All aboard job fairs: a joint endeavor of the public and private sectors.
The '90s present an opportunity for the public and private sectors to cooperate more fully in promoting the employment of people with disabilities and senior citizens. Two recent developments support this assertion. First, although having a delayed impact because of slow economic growth, a labor shortage due to a decreasing number of young workers entering the job market is expected to impede economic productivity (McCarthy, 1990). Second, employers must be doubly aware of the need for nondiscriminatory hiring now that people with disabilities have broader protections under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Feldblum, 1991).
Historically, the combined efforts of the public and private sectors have fallen short of meeting the challenge of employment of nontraditional groups. In a recent survey (Louis Harris & Associates, 1986), researchers concluded that "not working" is the "truest definition" of what it means to be disabled in American society. Sixty-six percent of a random sample of adults with disabilities were unemployed, and only 10% were working full-time. The majority of unemployed people with disabilities questioned in the survey expressed a strong desire to work.
Several solutions to the unemployment problem faced by people with disabilities and senior citizens have been suggested. Gray and Braddy (1988) stressed the need for job placement models that empower individuals to seek their own jobs. Managers in American businesses (Louis Harris & Associates, 1987) have called for more joint ventures between the public and private sectors in recruiting and training people from groups further back in the labor queue. EEO officers in major corporations involved in hiring people with disabilities seconded the recommendation made by managers and supervisors. They stated that most of the people with disabilities who they interviewed came at their own initiative or at the suggestion of a friend or family member. According to the Louis Harris and Associates report (1987, p. 40), "The message to public and private rehabilitation agencies is to do a far better job of introducing qualified disabled clients to prospective employers."
Research has demonstrated that the job fair is an effective method for linking qualified applicants with interested employers (Koch, 1989; Brown & Roessler, 1991).Job fairs have many other virtues as well. The job fair format is consistent with an empowerment approach to employment (Gray & Braddy, 1988); the person with a disability or the older individual must make the effort to attend the fair and present himself or herself in a positive manner to employers.
Cost effectiveness is another virtue of job fairs. Recent research with 600 different companies documented that the cost of recruitment increased by 70% in a two-year time period from 1986 to 1988 (Grossman & Magnus, 1989). In response to rising expenses, many companies in the survey (48%) implemented job fairs as a major feature of their recruitment programs. Industries that have used the job fair concept include insurance, hospitality, data processing, publishing, telecommunications, high technology, and retailing. Participating employers stressed that the job fair is an efficient and economical means for bringing diverse segments of the labor market together with representatives of business and industry (Aschkenasy, 1985; Osborne, 1988).
The job fair is also an excellent opportunity for private sector employers to learn about the placement services of public sector programs that promote the employment of specific groups such as older workers and people with disabilities (Glickstein & Ramer, 1988). In that regard, Brown and Roessler (1991) described the benefits of the Better Days job fairs, an alliance between Days Inn of America and representatives from the state rehabilitation agency, the state office on aging, and a university-based rehabilitation research center. The Better Days program demonstrated how job fairs increase employer-applicant interaction in settings convenient for all concerned. Applicants gained job interviewing experience and scheduled future interviews, several of which resulted in employment. Encouraging outcomes from this collaborative effort led to implementation of an expanded job fair program entitled "All Aboard."
Funded by the Dole Foundation in Washington, DC, the All Aboard job fairs were conducted from April to October in 1991. Sponsored by private sector organizations, eight job fairs were held in the following locations: Conway, AR.; Fayetteville, AR.; Russellville, AR.; Heber Springs, AR.; Great Bend, KS.; Hot Springs, AR.; Augusta, KS.; and Jacksonville, AR. Local Chambers of Commerce were the sponsoring organizations in seven of the communities. In one community, associates of the local Wal-Mart store conducted the job fair. Programs in the public sector that assisted with several of the job fairs included the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center (Hot Springs, AR.), the Noncommissioned Officers Association (Jacksonville, AR.), and Project Success, an employment program to assist individuals receiving public assistance (Russellville, AR. and Heber Springs, AR.)
Promotion and Planning
With the support of the Division of Rehabilitation Services in Arkansas and Kansas, members of the job fair staff at the University of Arkansas contacted the state offices of the Arkansas and Kansas Chambers of Commerce. This initiative on the part of a university was well received by the state Chamber officials and resulted in sponsorship of seven job fairs by local chambers. Corporate sponsorship by Wal-Mart was coordinated by the job fair staff with home office personnel in Bentonville, AR. With a budget of $400 per site, All Aboard sponsors conducted the job fairs by following a step-by-step procedure presented in an instructional packet. Drafted initially during the Better Days program, the job fair implementation guide was a joint endeavor of the job fair staff and corporate staff of Days Inn of America (Brown & Roessler, 1991). Following completion of the All Aboard project, university staff revised the materials for distribution to other interested sponsors.
Materials in the planning guide included a ten-week calendar of activities describing methods to secure employers and resource agencies, publicize the job fair, and conduct the fair at a local accessible site. According to Chamber and corporate sponsors, the planning guide was a clear and concise presentation of implementation steps. The guide also included promotional materials such as an advertising slick and a poster format. Publicity for All Aboard job fairs was extremely important and involved radio, television, and newspaper presentations and distribution of posters to local businesses and resource agencies.
Another key to the success of the All Aboard program was the involvement of the public sector. Counselors in state rehabilitation agencies and representatives of Area Agencies on Aging, the American Association of Retired Persons, and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program served as resources. They were available to assist with planning, to recruit participants for the fair, to participate in media events, and to provide staff support during the job fair. They also suggested additional employers and resource agencies. Informational flyers were sent to local training programs, work centers, rehabilitation facilities, supported employment contractors, senior citizen centers, special education teachers, vocational education teachers, Job Training Partnership Act projects, and Projects With Industry.
The impact of the All Aboard job fairs was determined by analyzing data collected at the eight job fairs. Applicant data forms included a confidential registration card, a brief educational and work history resume, and an exit interview. Employers maintained a list of all people interviewed and completed a survey at the end of the fair. On the exit survey, they indicated the size and nature of their company, their hiring needs and recruiting methods, and their overall evaluation of the All Aboard job fair. Resource agencies also completed an evaluation form at the job fair.
Follow-up activities were conducted 12 weeks after each job fair. Contacts were made to gather data on (a) applicant and employer evaluations of the fairs, and (b) job placements made as a. result of fair participation.
Results and Discussion
Job Fair Applicants
Four hundred and seventy six people from the targeted groups attended the eight job fairs (N = 476), including 313 people with disabilities and 163 senior citizens. On the average, applicants in both targeted groups learned about the job fairs from one or two primary sources. The main information source for senior citizens was the newspaper (65%). People with disabilities reported reading about the fair in the newspaper (34%) or hearing about it from their rehabilitation counselor (31%). Rehabilitation counselors did a creditable job of promoting the job fair among their clients.
Three of the job fairs were unqualified successes, each one having 80 or more applicants in attendance. Four job fairs attracted 18 to 49 individuals, and only two people attended one of the job fairs in a rural community with an extremely depressed local economy. People with disabilities attending the eight fairs reported the following disabling conditions: back injuries (28%), nonspecified disabilities (28%), walking limitations (13%), hearing impairments (11%), hand/wrist injuries (8%), learning disabilities (8%), visual impairments (7%), emotional disabilities 7%), and knee injuries (4%). Each of the following conditions was reported by 3% or less of the sample: spinal cord or mobility limitations requiring wheelchair use, cardiac disabilities, and mental retardation.
Employment Status of Applicants
Less than a quarter of the applicants listed themselves as employed full-time (7%), or part-time (16.5%). Other statuses included student (7%), homemaker (8%), retired (21%), and unemployed (39%). The majority of people with disabilities (56%) and the majority of senior citizens (69%) were unemployed or retired. Most of the applicants in both categories, people with disabilities (81%) and senior citizens (73%), had been looking for a job for one month or longer. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of the applicants with disabilities stated that they had been in the job market for six months or more.
Both groups reported approximately the same number of past jobs in their work histories (3), and they used approximately the same number of methods to find work (3). For both groups, the most popular method for learning about jobs was the newspaper, although more of the applicants with disabilities (73%) relied on the newspaper than did senior citizens (45%). Other popular methods that people with disabilities used to learn about employment opportunities included friends and family (57%), the state job service (54%), and direct contacts with business (50%). Suggesting the need to publicize their services more widely, the rehabilitation and aging agencies were ranked fifth and sixth by the two groups as sources for job information.
Impact of All Aboard
The eight All Aboard job fairs attracted 126 employers ranging in number of employees from 3 (a local branch of a state-wide bank) to 9000 (a large international trucking firm). The largest groupings of industries in attendance were retail sales (12%), direct sales and telemarketing (9%), health care and medical 9%), hospitality (7%), banking and finance (6%), and grocery (6%). For the most part, employers interviewed for unskilled (37%) or skilled (52%) positions. Only 11% of the openings were managerial or professional in nature. On the day of the job fair, 85% of the employers rated the All Aboard recruiting opportunity as good (57%) or excellent (28%).
As applicants exited the job fairs, they were asked by registration personnel to complete an exit form. Two hundred and eighty six forms were returned. Using a five point scale (very poor = 1 to excellent = 5), applicants rated all of the job fairs positively (people with disabilities, M = 3.8, SD =.90; senior citizens, M = 3.6, SD = 1.05). Applicant ratings of the eight fairs were as follows: Conway (M = 3.9, n = 60), Fayetteville (4.0, 32), Russellville (3.4, 60), Herber Springs (3.7, 36), Great Bend (3.7, 55), Hot Springs (3.3, 20), Augusta (4.0, 2), Jacksonville (4.1, 12).
Based on participant feedback, All Aboard staff noted some problems at two of the job fairs. At the jobs fair conducted as part of a business trade show, business representatives in the booths were not always knowledgeable about the job fair. Hence, they were not prepared to discuss job openings with applicants. Similarly, several of the employers were not hiring at the time of the fair which discouraged a number of applicants. Combining a job fair with an exposition, in retrospect, did not seem to be an effective strategy. For most businesses in attendance, objectives of a trade fair, namely spreading the word about one's products and soliciting follow-up calls and sales, conflicted with the employment emphasis of a job fair.
Participants at another job fair registered two criticisms. Too few employers (n = 9) were in attendance, and most employers at the fair did not have immediate openings. Additional promotional work was needed to encourage more employers with job openings to participate in the job fair. Ironically, that same job fair produced one of the more successful employment outcomes of the entire program. A state park employee interviewed 10 applicants subsequent to the job fair and hired two persons with disabilities and two senior citizens. In addition, park staff hired two applicants from Project Success.
Although full-time jobs, state park positions are temporary, March to October, and the park had experienced difficulty retaining employees and securing commitments for their return the next season. At follow-up, twelve weeks after the job fair, all of those employed as a result of the fair were still on the job and four people had agreed to return next year. Park administrators were pleased with the performance and dedication of the people they hired through the All Aboard connection.
As a result of contacts made at the job fair, park administrators also learned that a local resource agency placed young adults with developmental disabilities in jobs in the community through JTPA. Five of these young adults were hired for maintenance jobs, and the park was equally pleased with their work.
Increased accessibility in the park is another noteworthy outcome of the park's participation in All Aboard. Information gained from the fair encouraged park employees to continue their plans to redesign one camp area to be barrier free. A playground, located across from the swimming beach, was also renovated to be accessible. Local businesses covered the costs of these two projects.
The positive impact of All Aboard may be documented in other ways as well. For example, the majority of applicants completing the exit interview indicated that attending the job fair provided them with at least one good job lead (people with disabilities, 66%; senior citizens, 58%). Eighty percent of the participating resource agencies rated the job fairs very favorably (excellent - 37%; good - 43%). They (81%) also stated that the job fair provided an excellent opportunity to talk with local employers about the services of their agencies and the skills and abilities of the people they represent. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of the agencies made plans during the fair to make follow-up calls on employers who were, for the most part (58%), new contacts for the agencies. They also noted that the job fair provided a convenient location for them to contact many local employers. Several resource personnel suggested that the job fairs could be improved by involving more employers and by wider publicity of the purpose of the program.
For the follow-up sample, 50% (n = 238) of the applicants were selected using a random numbers table. One hundred fifty-nine applicants were reached for a total of 33% of all applicants. Of the 126 employers who participated in the job fair, 116 could be reached for follow-up interviews. Twelve weeks after the job fair, the majority of employers (74%) and applicants (70%) continued to rate the job fairs as excellent to good.
Of the 159 job fair applicants contacted in the follow-up, 101 described their employment status as still looking, 31 people were employed, and 27 people were no longer looking for employment. The majority of people still looking for employment expressed a preference for either professional/technical (17%) or clerical/sales positions (35%). Most of them (55%) had been looking for a job for six months or more. Commonly cited problems in securing employment included discrimination 32%), disability (28%), the economy (14%), and lack of education or training (14%). People no longer looking for employment cited a variety of reasons such as health and disability factors, loss of benefits, and no longer needing to work. The majority of the people who were employed worked in clerical/sales jobs (39%) or service positions (32%). Most of the employed people earned minimum wage (37%) or between minimum wage and $5.00 an hour (26%).
A total of 73 job placements resulted from the eight job fairs, and only three people were no longer on the job when followed-up after each job fair. All placements were in competitive employment, although employers did not report whether the jobs were full-time or part-time. Described in Table 1, the job placements cost less than $50 per placement based on direct costs involved in implementing All Aboard job fairs at the eight sites. Placement costs for All Aboard are well within the range of recommended costs for job placement cited by Gray and Braddy 1988) and the U.S. Department of Education (1990).
[TABULAR DATA 1 OMITTED]
Based on the number of people who obtained jobs and the ratings of all participants, All Aboard staff consider the program successful. Project activities demonstrated that a job fair is (a) a good recruitment strategy for business, (b) an effective job development activity for resource agencies, and (c) a positive community activity for sponsoring organizations. In addition, the job fairs served an educational function for employers who learned about the services of resource agencies in their communities and about the skills and abilities of people often overlooked in the labor market.
One of the primary weaknesses of the All Aboard job fair is that most of the jobs offered fell into either the unskilled or skilled categories. Preplanning with employers might encourage them to recruit more actively for management positions at the job fair as well. This same need for preplanning extends to applicants. Possibly resource agencies could encourage the attendance of individuals who have some of the management skills employers need. Other job fair organizers have pre-registered prospective employers and applicants in a job and applicant bank in order to make matches in advance of the fair. On the day of the job fair, people seeking employment of a certain type can be routed directly to the appropriate employers via computer bank information. Further demonstration projects would provide opportunities to evaluate the impact of preplanning and preregistration on the employment outcomes of job fairs.
By using the All Aboard planning guide and promotional videotape, sponsors can efficiently implement the job fair process. Additional demonstrations would lead not only to refinements in the materials but to research on important issues such as the long-term success of job fair placements. Other significant questions can be addressed in future All Aboard applications, for example: (a) Are job fairs a better source of long-term placements than other recruiting sources?; (b) How do job fair applicants/hires differ from applicants/hires from other recruiting sources?; (c) Do public-private partnerships in All Aboard result in continued cooperative activities subsequent to the job fair?; and (d) Does participation in a job fair, even when there are no hires as a result, influence employers to recruit people with disabilities through other means?
All Aboard staff learned some other valuable lessons from conducting the eight job fairs. First, the program packet designed to help sponsors conduct All Aboard job fairs proved to be very effective. Second, the importance of early and widespread publicity about the fair, its location, and purposes can not be overemphasized. Finally, the temptation to combine the job fair with other types of activities should be resisted. The conflict between the objectives, for example, of a business exposition and a job fair detracted from the impact of one All Aboard. Overall, the All Aboard job fair offers the public and private sectors a mutually beneficial activity that will result in increased employment of significant numbers of people with disabilities and senior citizens.
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|Publication:||The Journal of Rehabilitation|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1993|
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