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More Columbus area firms are hiring again, and the uptick in employment is beginning to draw once-disheartened candidates with quality resumés back into the job market, employers say.

“We’re definitely seeing more candidates with high-end engineering backgrounds, a higher caliber of job applicant,” said Kim Burton, a hiring specialist with Rightway Fasteners, an automotive supplier in Columbus.

Employers attending a job fair hosted by The Republic at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on Wednesday afternoon said more people who lost manufacturing jobs during the economic downturn are coming back to the job market just as the central Indiana manufacturing outlook brightens.

Manufacturers such as engine-maker Cummins and auto supplier Sunright America are among companies that have announced recent expansions or new product offerings that could lead to hundreds of additional jobs in the next few months.

Both companies were among 36 employers — most in the fair’s past five years — on hand accepting resumes, with about 100 job-seekers milling about during most of the five-hour fair.

Out-of-work manufacturing worker Mike Shepherd, 54, said he lost a job 18 months ago at a Seymour lawn and garden tools maker. He recently got serious about searching for new work and has found the job market to be a double-edged opportunity.

The good news is that more companies seem to be hiring, but the challenge is that most employers expect a higher level of skill from job applicants than they did even five years ago, he said. At his last job, Shepherd said he did production work and also handled some logistics and pricing of materials for a 110-employee company.

“It was a small shop, and I did a little bit of everything,” he said.

“Now, it seems like there are a lot of jobs out there, but it’s enormously harder to get hired,” Shepherd said. “Companies want you to be grounded in specific programs and processes. They want you to have five years of experience in Six Sigma (an industry process designed to enhance manufacturing quality).”

Burton of Rightway Fasteners said language skills are another important factor that can add luster to someone’s resume.

“We’ve been looking for a combination salesperson and project manager, and we prefer someone with Japanese language skills,” Burton said. Rightway got started a decade ago as a joint venture by several Japanese-owned companies.

Burton said Wednesday’s job fair produced several interesting candidates who might have potential, including at least one applicant who is fluent in Japanese.

Justin Cortez, manager of engineering services for Aerotek, an industrial staffing company that works with Honda, Cummins and other manufacturers, said third-party employment agencies can help big employers ramp up hiring quickly as production needs grow.

“We like to say that we hire right the first time. We can help companies with their screening and selection processes,” Cortez said. “We’ve helped companies hire engineers and skilled tradespeople.”

Wednesday’s job fair took place on the heels of a recent state employment report that showed Columbus gained jobs in the past year at a faster rate than any of the state’s other 13 metro areas.

The Columbus Metropolitan Statistical Area, consisting of all of Bartholomew County, gained nearly 900 jobs in the past year, for a growth rate of 2.3 percent, according to data released by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The unemployment rate for the Columbus market was 6.4 percent, sixth-lowest among the state’s 92 counties and nearly a full percentage point better than the national unemployment rate of 7.3 percent.

Such upbeat statistics have drawn more people back into serious job hunting, employers say, including some job applicants who were out of the workforce for several years.

Consider Olivia Cohen, the mother of two children, who last worked full time as a sales representative in Pittsburgh in the fall of 2003. Marriage, motherhood and a move to the Washington, D.C., area intervened and put her work career on hold for a decade. She moved back to Columbus, where she grew up, about six months ago.

“I felt very blessed to have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom, but now I’m ready to get back into the workforce,” said Cohen, who has an 8-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.

Cohen worked for five years in sales in Pittsburgh with FastSigns in marketing and later as an executive at a computer learning center there. She’d like to find work again in sales. She came to The Republic’s job fair in search of fresh leads.

“I don’t see a lot of sales positions, but I apply for every one of them that I learn about,” Cohen said.

Other job candidates were looking to begin their

careers.

That description applies to 20-year-old Lexus Hardesty, a 2012 high school graduate, who plans to study at Ivy Tech Community College to become a dental technician next year. She has been working as a restaurant hostess but hopes to find something that pays better.

She came to the job fair in a starched, professional blouse and well-pressed skirt. Human resources professionals said those details matter, and good grooming can help any applicant make a good initial impression.

But not everyone masters that concept.

A few job seekers made the rounds wearing wrinkled T-shirts, cut-off jeans or other tattered outfits.

“If they come looking for work dressed like that, how are they going to come to their jobs?” asked a befuddled Elizabeth Kirchner, a personnel specialist staffing the recruitment booth for the Four Seasons retirement community. “You should at least dress professionally.”

Jobless rates

State and county unemployment rates have edged lower since January.

Month    Bartholomew County    Statewide

January    7.7%    9.6%

February    7.4%    9.3%

March    7.1%    9.1%

April    6.1%    8.0%

May    6.3%    8.1%

June    6.7%    8.7%

July    6.4%    8.3%

Source: Indiana Workforce Development Dept.

 

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