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Has the recession changed job fairs?

A Dollar General store recruiter speaks with a man during a job fair at the Signature Grand in Davie, Fla.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: At least 15 million people are out of work in this country. And many economists say the jobs picture won't get significantly better anytime soon. But that doesn't mean folks aren't trying their best to find openings, and one of the places to do that is at a job fair. Job fairs have been around for a long time, of course, but has their form and function changed during the Great Recession?

Andrea Gardner has our story.


ANDREA GARDNER: The Long Beach Hilton is swarming with people. They carry resumes and straighten their suit jackets. Many are hoping to land a traditional 9-5 job. But instead they are finding mostly sales jobs that pay on commission. At one booth, a representative from a direct sales company is showing women how to make money selling products in their homes. At another, State Farm Insurance is promoting an independent contractor program, where agents sell policies on commission. Some trade schools have booths too, hoping job seekers sign up for classes.

PEGGY HILLMAN: Jobs are very scarce.

Peggy Hillman works for National Career Fairs, which organized the event. Last year, it canceled some job fairs across the country because so few businesses were hiring. 2010 has picked up, thanks in part to alternative opportunities like these.

HILLMAN: People are becoming more and more inventive about how they're going to make an income, and those kinds of opportunities work for some people.

John Diamond is here recruiting distributors for his company, Kangan Water. It sells water treatment units for homes and businesses. He says many of the people he meets haven't come to grips with the new employment market. Either that, or they don't want to pay $4,000 for a water unit. All distributors are required to buy one upfront or pay one off through sales.

JOHN DIAMOND: I don't have the clock-in at 9, and clock-out at 5 job anymore. And those job opportunities aren't here. And they are disappointed. They're disappointed in what the reality is.

Diamond says, too many job seekers leave empty handed, preferring to wait for a full-time job in their current trade, rather than trying something new.

Pat Stevens is among the 500 or so people here. She's hoping to find a full-time secretarial job, but hasn't found any leads. She says commission sales jobs are too great a risk right now.

PAT STEVENS: Somebody has to buy in order for anybody to make any money. And nobody can depend on that, especially in this economy. Where are they getting the money? Everybody's broke.

But not all job seekers were quite as skeptical.

Lou Giordani and Vascan Baizjian left the career fair with several brochures.

LOU GIORDANI: We're I.T. engineers, and we're definitely having to look outside the box, so... Yeah, we are considering sales positions, opening up businesses, what not. Definitely something different than what we're normally doing.

VASCAN BAIZJIAN: Nowadays you have to go with what's available.

Giordani says he'll likely sell computer products on commission. It could either be a temporary way to make money, or the start of his next career.

In Los Angeles, I'm Andrea Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Andrea Gardner is a journalism professor and writer in Pasadena, Calif.

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