When Dion Walker closes his eyes and thinks of his next job, he thinks of palm trees and a nice breeze. That’s because he is thinking of a cruise ship in Hawaii — specifically, the Pride of America.
Earlier this month, Norwegian Cruise Line held a job fair for a variety of positions on its Pride of America ship, which stays in Hawaii year long. That’s why the day after Labor day, Walker found himself sitting in the hallway of a Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C., nervously chatting with other job seekers. Currently, there are 7.1 million unemployed Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 14.3 million in August of 2009.
The unemployment rate has dropped to 4.4 percent, a point where — according to some economists including the U.S. Federal Reserve — the U.S. is nearing full employment. With the number of unemployed Americans dropping, employers looking to fill open positions have to compete for the remaining job seekers.
As of yet, Norwegian Cruise Line does not seem to have a problem attracting potential employees. A handful of them showed up more than an hour before the job fair presentation was set to begin.
Among those early birds were Walker and Darren Mitchell. Sitting near each other, folders and resumes in hand, the two men struck up an easy conversation.
“They say cruise life is very different,” Mitchell said.
“That’s what I hear, too,” nodded Walker.
Further down the hall, Brian Perez was getting ready for a day filled with interviews. Perez is a manager of fleet recruitment for Norwegian Cruise Line. He has been with the company for more than 10 years and has been in recruitment since 2008. His team hosts two events a week in different cities. A day’s work consists of two presentations — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — each followed by one-on-one interviews. The recruiting team stays as long as there are candidates to interview.
“Sometimes, we go into like 9:00 at night interviewing. And the candidates wait, that’s part of the amazing story as well. They will sit here and wait hours after the presentation for this opportunity,” Perez said.
When the morning presentation begins, there are just a few seats open in the small conference room. While Norwegian Cruise Line has not seen a drop in the number of candidates since the Great Recession, it has seen a shift in the type of candidates.
“There was a time where we would go to these events and we had these crazy numbers but it was very much: ‘I’m an accountant. I don’t have a job. This sounds like a great opportunity to go work in Hawaii. I’ll be a waiter. Sure.’ Never been a waiter in their entire life,” explained Perez. However, nowadays, most of the candidates have hospitality experience. “They work in restaurants. They work as a waiter in restaurants in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles and this is like: ‘Oh, you know what I’m going to try to do what I do but on a cruise ship and see if it’s any different.’”
Darren Mitchell is the second type of candidate. At 55 years old, he has spent years in the hospitality industry. He washed dishes. He manned the grill. He shucked oysters. Right now, he works at HomeGoods but is looking for a better job. He wouldn’t mind moving to Hawaii for one.
“It’s a great opportunity. I hope to make a career out of it,” said Mitchell.
Another sign of a strong job market is that workers who are unhappy with their current job — be it because of their schedule, their boss, their role, or their pay — become more optimistic about finding a better one. In July, about 3.2 million people quit their jobs. That same month, there were more than 6 million job openings.
“We are seeing slight increases in job openings and quit rates, which is good news,” said Cathy Barrera, Chief Economist at ZipRecruiter. “However, things have basically been hovering within the same range for more than a year. We want to see the quit rate in particular continue to climb, which will signal that people are feeling confident enough in the job market to leave their jobs and find better work.”
Among those willing to quit to pursue a better job is Michelle Porter, 23, who works as a cook at a restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. Porter’s friend sent her a link the day before to the ad for the cruise ship event, saying: “It’s your dream. You gotta go!” And so here she was, just hours before her afternoon shift, already wearing her chef’s coat.
For year, Michelle Parker, 23, has dreamed of working as a cook on a cruise ship.
She applied to work at a Norwegian Cruise ship when she was younger but was not selected.
“Maybe I wasn’t ready,” she said. She is more confident now. She had just received a promotion at work, but she still wants her shot at that cruise ship cook job.
Walker, who is 27 years old, was employed until about a month ago when he left his job in New York and moved back to D.C. Since then he has been applying for jobs, hoping to land a position in a food and beverage department at a hotel or a company such as Norwegian Cruise Line.
As the morning presentation wraps up, Mitchell and Walker were called in for their one-on-one interviews. A young woman in the crowd clapped and said: “You got it, guys!”
“See you on the ship!” Walker said in response.
A while later, when asked how the interview went, Mitchell smiled shyly and said: “I think I am going to get it.”
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