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Officials, Employers, Job-seekers Gather to Network

U.S. Department of Labor Deputy Secretary Christopher P. Lu touted Obama administration job programs at the third annual Nine Innings of Networking hiring event last week.

Keynote speaker Lu, who attended public high school in Montgomery County, said events like the one June 23 highlight what the Obama administration is trying to do, “to make a difference in the lives of Americans.” He said its efforts are not just about creating jobs for Americans but also about providing child care and benefits for American employees.

Since the Great Recession began in 2008, Lu said more than 14 million people each year have come to job training centers for assistance in finding work. In 2013 alone, more than 2 million were served through the Workforce Investment Act.

Since the recession, the United States has seen 51 consecutive months of job growth, with 9.4 million private sector jobs created, Lu said. The Obama administration and events like the Nine Innings of Networking hiring event are “about creating an opportunity agenda.”

“The business of government is creating opportunity,” Lu said. The U.S. historically has been the place for people from other countries to come to for opportunity.

U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) spoke before Lu about “a critically important effort.”

“Jobs is the No. 1 issue because it’s critical,” Hoyer said. Job creation has nothing to do with political parties, he said.

Hoyer said when someone asks a person for their name, the second question they usually ask them is what do they do for a living. If an individual does not have a job, it is “devastating to their psyche.” The local hiring event last month was about connecting job seekers with companies that are looking for employees.

“It is, in my opinion, our responsibility to open up opportunity” for people, Hoyer said, adding that it is important to make sure that people are educated in a way that employers need because “education is the first step on the pathway to a career.”

Good jobs and good pay are critical in order to build the middle class in the U.S., Hoyer said. He has traveled to many other countries and has seen that most countries have only rich people and poor people, but the U.S. is unique because it has a middle class.

“That’s what Make It In America is all about,” said Hoyer, referring to his initiative that seeks to promote job growth.

Hoyer said “the Obama administration understands well what we need to do.”

After lunch, a panel discussion was held, followed by a brief question-and-answer period.

Ellen Flowers-Fields, a member of the panel and director of the Small Business Development Center at the College of Southern Maryland, spoke about the importance of collaboration. She said that “workforce is near and dear to my heart.” An opportunity to work is the key to advancement for families, Flowers-Fields said.

“Collaboration requires collective determination,” Flowers-Fields said. Collaboration also requires commitment to the project, compromise and a willingness to change. Flowers-Fields said employers at the hiring event and Job Network collaborated to make the event possible.

Kirkland Murray, president and CEO of the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corp., spoke as a member of the panel about innovation, and said that “to be innovative you have to collaborate.”

Murray said when looking at the future of the workforce in the U.S., we must ask, how will employers be served? Innovation is not always about coming up with ideas yourself, Murray said, but knowing when to borrow ideas.

Mike Benton, a coach and facilitator with Job Match Re-Employment Project, also spoke as a panelist. Benton said 12 alumni members of Job Match were at the event as employers, out of a total of 50 employers.

He encouraged audience members to “think outside the box” when it comes to multiple sources of income and to learn from what works and what does not work for them.

Benton said the No. 1 stress factor in the U.S. today is jobs: The employed are overworked, and others are unemployed.

“It’s kind of becoming a culture to work longer hours,” Benton said.

The No. 2 stress factor in the U.S., Benton said, is money. After working in workforce development for six years, Benton said he has learned that a backup plan to earn income is necessary, and you can only control how you think and your ability to influence outcomes.

On average, each American will have 10 to 15 jobs during their career, Benton said.

“We as responsible employers have a concern to make sure our employees are making it work,” Benton said of providing adequate incomes, adding that losing employees costs a company about 20 percent of that employee’s salary to replace the employee by interviewing applicants and training a new employee.

Karl Geist, a volunteer with Nine Innings of Networking, was laid off in late 2012 and attended last year’s hiring event as a job seeker. While he has done consulting work and part-time work since 2012, Geist, who lives in Hollywood, found full-time work a couple of months ago with ICI Services. Geist works from the Norfolk, Va.-based company’s Lexington Park office as a senior systems engineer.

“I was relieved the search was finally over,” Geist said of finding full-time work. He said when he kept track of the hours he spent applying for work, in training courses and attending networking events hoping to find work, he was working 80 hours each week looking for work.

Brittani Smith, 25, of Nanjemoy graduated from High-Tech Institute, now Anthem College, in Orlando, Fla., six years ago with an associate degree in graphic design and animation. She said she found that in looking for work after college, most jobs require a bachelor’s.

She came to the hiring event looking for full-time work to help her save money to return to school. Since college, she has worked several retail jobs and worked for two years in concessions at Regency Furniture Stadium.

“We are having trouble finding the right people,” said Marcus McDonald, northern Maryland regional manager of Men’s Wearhouse. McDonald said people do not want to work based on commission because they want more security.

He said he was at Monday’s hiring event hoping to hire and had accepted several applications, but the company has trouble finding applicants with the right skills, including retail experience. A few applications he had seen included retail experience and “some very good candidates.”

“What I’m finding here at this particular [hiring event] that’s different is a lot of high school graduates,” McDonald said, adding that Nine Innings of Networking’s hiring event was “one of the better job fairs we’ve attended.”

Courtney Pommier, Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa’s human resources manager, had received 11 resumés in the first hour of the hiring event. The vacation resort in Calvert County also has three restaurants, and Pommier said she was scheduling interviews. She said she receives a lot of applications every day at the resort.

“I think our biggest problem is finding people who have that social aspect,” including an ability to smile under pressure and interact with guests in a friendly way, Pommier said.

In today’s digital world, Pommier said interpersonal skills and the ability to multitask are hard to find in applicants.

“I like working in a movie theater, but I’m always looking for better opportunities for myself,” said Daniel Clausius, 23, of Mechanicsville. Clausius works concessions at AMC Theater in Lexington Park.

Clausius said he came to the job fair with an interest in human resources positions and submitted his resumé to several companies. Clausius interned in human resources with the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., while in college. He earned an associate degree in general studies from the College of Southern Maryland last year.

“I’m glad [I came today],” Clausius said.

Clausius remains optimistic about his job opportunities because his mother changed her career three times, and he is willing to learn new things.

“It’s just the beginning of my life,” Clausius said.