LACONIA — A job fair, featuring a diverse array of nearly three dozen local employers and four employment agencies, drew more than 300 people, a significant number of high school students among them, to the ballroom of the Margate Resort yesterday.
The fair was presented by the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, whose executive director Karmen Gifford said she was very pleased to have such a healthy mix of employers and so many students from Belmont, Franklin, Gilford and Laconia come searching summer jobs and eying future careers.
Many of the businesses, including landscapers, restaurants, retailers and resorts, were primarily seeking seasonal employees, but not exclusively from the ranks of students.
Josh Lemire of T-Bones & Cactus Jacks said he expects to add between 35 and 40 employees to the normal complement of about 50 to handle the heavier customer volume during the summer. He anticipated many of his hires would not be looking past the summer, but said that the company was always looking for good employees and willing to offer the most promising permanent positions. Lemire, who has been with the company for 16 years, said those wishing to work in the hospitality industry would find the compensation and benefits attractive and competitive.
Abby Young of Centerplate Inc., the food and beverage concessionaire seeking 100 people to staff its operation at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook, said jobs waiting tables, tending bar, preparing food and washing dishes are seasonal which pay an inexperienced employee $8 or $9 an hour. But, she added that Centerplate operates across the country, and for good workers "there is room to grow within the company." She said she had taken many applications, including some from former employees.
Amanda Ouellet, assistant manager of the Taco Bell restaurant set to open on in place of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Union Avenue next month, said that she needs 40 or 50 employees, about half of them full-time, adding: "We're right where we want to be." Noting that there is "lots of turnover" in fast food franchises, she welcomed the applications submitted at the fair.
Several retailers from Tanger Outlets seeking to gird up for the summer season were offering part-time jobs starting at minimum wage. One representative of a major brand said that most of the stores at the mall have only two full-time employees, the manager and an assistant, and staff the sales floor with part-timers.
Kathy Nelson, assistant vice president of Bank of New Hampshire, said the bank is seeking to fill 15 positions throughout its organization, most requiring experience, but also some entry-level jobs.
"We're seeing qualified applicants," she said, explaining many are seeking full-time work in place of part-time jobs. She said that the bank is expanding and anticipates there will be new positions to fill.
Hannaford was also seeking additional employees for the summer, 30 for its store in Gilford, and 50 or 60 for its store in Meredith. Kim Sansoucie said, "There is a lot of competition for employees, but so far we've been very lucky."
"We're always hiring," said Nicole Lemelin of the Lakes Region Community Services, who was seeking "direct support professionals" to work closely with the disabled. She said that the agency provides the necessary training and pays between $10.68 and $14,72 an hour plus travel expenses. "It's been a good day," she said, pointing to a stack of applications.
Aavid Thermalloy, New Hampshire Ball Bearing, EFI, three of the premier manufacturers in the region, had a presence at the fair. Representatives of all three said they were competing for employees in a shrinking pool of talent. Chris Currier of EFI said that the firm is seeking to expand and requires software, mechanical and electrical engineers, which are in short supply. He said that the company employs 350 people, eight out ten of whom are skilled employees.
Arthur Karageorges of Aavid Thermalloy explained that the Laconia facility designs and develops products, which are subsequently manufactured in plants with lower operating costs. Consequently, the local workforce is highly skilled. "It's difficult to get qualified people," he confessed. "we never have enough CNC (computer numerical control) operators." Karageorges said the company offers two internships each year and has partnered with the manufacturing programs at the Huot Technical Center and Lakes Region Community College. "And we've had a couple people stop by today," he said. "I try to bring them her between June and September," he laughed, "so they miss the winter."
Nicole Murray, human resources administrator at New Hampshire Ball Bearing, echoed her counterparts at EFI and Aavid. "There's a huge knowledge gap," she remarked, explaining that experienced employees are retiring in growing numbers, taking 40 or 50 years of exceptional skill and institutional memory with them. "We're trying to bring in experienced help," she said. "When we find experienced machinists, we're throwing cookies at 'em. And we found one today."
Like Jeremy Hiltz of Hiltz Excavating Inc. of Ashland, said finding capable employees is "the biggest challenge in our industry." He said that someone who starts at $12 an hour "gets paid to learn," but the work offers opportunities to earn a six-figure income. He suggested that too few have "the patience to start at the bottom and work their way through the ranks." He said he found one potential employee at the fair.
With unemployment dropping below 5 percent in the Lakes Region as the summer tourist season approaches, several innkeepers, restaurateurs, landscapers and retailers said that the fair provided a good opportunity to reach young people seeking seasonal and part-time work. Those businesses appeared to draw the most applications, leaving the manufacturers fishing the same small pool and the excavator eager to pay someone to learn.