Jobs figures promising but challenges remain

Champaign County’s jobless rate and economy have improved, but some job seekers at a fair Wednesday said many of the open positions are only part-time or with difficult hours.

Champaign County added about 300 new jobs last month as its unemployment rate dipped to 6.3 percent, according to state data.

Despite the improving jobs numbers, some applicants at a job fair Wednesday at the Champaign County Community Center said the economy still has challenges.

The hiring event was the first time the county has hosted a job fair in two years, said Eric Welty, workforce supervisor for Champaign and Logan County Job and Family Services. The diversity of the employers who signed up for the event shows the economy has improved, he said.

At the event two years ago, employers sought to fill only a few skilled positions and in smaller volumes.

But Wednesday’s job fair included more than 40 employers ranging from construction and health care to manufacturing and banking.

“There’s something here for everyone,” Welty said. “We’ve really crossed the spectrum of the employment field.”

The job fair was free to employers and job seekers. It was too early to estimate Wednesday how many people might have attended, but he said more than 12,000 people were notified throughout the region.

“If one person gets hired, it’s a great return on our investment,” Welty said.

Andrew Donahoe, manager at KTH Parts Industries Inc., came looking for production help at the company that produces auto parts for Honda.

The company is slightly different than others in the county because of its relationship with Honda, Donahoe said. But KTH has hired more than 80 workers in the past year, and still needs to find more production workers and fill some engineering openings.

“It feels like there’s a positive upswing happening,” Donahoe said.

David Southern and Derek Risner, both of Springfield, came looking for jobs mostly in light manufacturing and met with several employers throughout the day.

David Hollingsworth, of Springfield, has experience working as a maintenance mechanic but said he lost his job in a large layoff about six months ago. He has more than 20 years experience, but said many of the positions he’s seen are only for part-time or for second or third shifts. Because of the hours, he said those shifts are difficult for job hunters with families.

Still, Hollingsworth said he showed up early for Wednesday’s job fair and had a chance to meet with several potential employers.

Risner, who has a few years experience in the retail industry and has done some work in light manufacturing, said opportunities are available. The challenge, he said, is getting a foot in the door.

“There’s a bunch of opportunities out there,” Risner said. “It’s just hard for someone with not much experience to get an opportunity.”

Garth Robinson, owner of Robinson Insulation Co. in Springfield, attended to look for a handful of insulation installers and a production manager position. He also went to a recent hiring event in Springfield, and said overall, he was pleased with the quality of candidates on hand Wednesday.

The housing market has been down for several years, but Robinson said he has seen a slight uptick in new home construction creating room to hire a few workers. The market is still tough, he said, but has improved slightly.

“We like to find people who had some construction experience because that is very helpful to us,” Robinson said.

Overall, potential employees are paying more attention to the kinds of skills needed for local jobs, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for Urbana.

Job seekers expected to attend the event had a wide range of backgrounds, from manufacturing and engineering to military service, Bailey said.

“What I’m seeing is people are paying more attention to what is needed by the employers,” Bailey said. “There is a definite hype going on right now with hiring.”

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