Norwich — Desperate job seekers deluged the Holiday Inn here Wednesday during a five-hour event at which more than 1,000 people had a chance to meet face to face with prospective employers.
“We’re suffering down here,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who spent about two hours at the job fair. “People want to work.”
People were lined halfway around the hotel by the time the event kicked off at 10 a.m., sponsors said. Courtney said the local event attracted about twice as many job seekers as one he helped arrange in Mansfield earlier this year.
“It’s a little overwhelming here,” said Tammy Ladd of Norwich, who has been working per diem jobs in the health care field but is hoping for something more permanent.
“I’m trying to find anything,” said Ralph Churchill of Baltic, who has worked with disabled people and done landscaping work, among other jobs.
The job fair, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and supported by the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board and Courtney, featured more than 30 businesses as well as résumé-writing advice services.
“There’s a degree of sadness,” said Tony Sheridan, president of the local chamber. “The mission of success here would be to have very few people show up.”
Sheridan took an informal survey that indicated people attending the job fair were more than twice as likely to be out of work as to be looking to find another position. Eastern Connecticut currently lists more than 300 job openings, he said, but in many cases there are skills mismatches, meaning businesses cannot find people with the exact competencies they are seeking.
One job seeker, Brian James of Groton, said he was glad someone was trying to do something to help job seekers. The submarine veteran said he has been seeking an engineering job for months without success.
“They don’t want to train,” he said of employers. “If you don’t have the exact skills they are looking for, they don’t have any interest.”
Churchill, the Baltic job seeker who has been out of work since February, said he moved to the region from Oregon, seeking support from friends and family while he searched for a job. But he soon found out the labor situation here is one of the worst in the country, with the region having lost nearly 12,000 jobs since March 2008.
“I didn’t realize it was this bad,” Churchill said.
In fact, projections made earlier this year by the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted the Norwich-New London area, which includes Westerly, would be the ninth-worst in the country in terms of post-recession jobs recoveries by the end of the year. The firm’s analysis showed the region would see only 400 jobs restored at the end of 2012 when compared to numbers seen during the recession’s low point.
Mike Toomey, who drove an hour from his home in Douglas, Mass., said this job fair appeared to be bigger, with more businesses represented, than he has seen at several other events he has attended since losing a job at a Rhode Island car dealership in April.
“I think it’s worse here than in Massachusetts,” he said of the struggle to find a job.