Job fair bounces back

Just after the economy nose-dived in 2009, the Missoula Job Service held its last Career Fair. For three years, general manager Wolfgang Ametsbichler says there was simply no point in holding another one.

"The recession was so bad that nobody was hiring," Ametsbichler says. "This year we saw things picking up."

That's why the Career Fair will attempt a comeback April 25.

Employment Services Supervisor Saundra Long says she hoped to get at least 60 potential employers to take part in the event. By Friday morning, 83 had signed up.

"It does make me feel hopeful," Long says. "I feel like we're in the upswing."

Surviving a major recession changed how some businesses operate, which Long says is why many may have only a few openings at the event. By comparison, she says Montana Rail Link could be looking to fill 25 to 30 jobs. Regardless of how many positions are available, Long says the participating companies were vetted based on whether they could put people to work within three to six months.

While the majority of participating companies will be hiring locally, oil giant Halliburton is the fair's biggest sponsor. The company hopes to tap into Missoula's labor force and ship employees elsewhere, most likely to the Bakken oil patch in eastern Montana and North Dakota.

"They're here to recruit for out-of-area," Long says.

Diane Matthews typed away at a laptop in the Missoula Job Service offices last week, studying the employers she planned to approach at the fair. Matthews spent the last decade working her way toward a degree in engineering while cleaning hotel rooms, flipping burgers and doing whatever else was available after the recession hit. In 2010 she wound up job hunting in Phoenix.

"I couldn't even find a job cashiering," she says. "There was nothing to even apply for."

Matthews, who has been unemployed in Missoula since Feb. 1, says she's fortunate enough to be in a position to take a job that requires her moving out of Missoula, if the right offer came along. Right now she's thinking Halliburton will most likely have a job that best uses her skill set.

"I'd like to find something that's challenging, something that uses my education," she says. "I don't want mindless activity."

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