2017-03-16 / Front Page

Local Businesses Looking To Hire

Spring Job Fairs Coming Up in Area
By Kevin R. Hess

Spring is on the way, despite the recent cold spell, and local businesses will soon be opening their doors for the 2017 tourist season.

“If you want a job, you can find a job,” says Jim Clapperton of Michigan Works in St. Ignace. “Most of our local businesses struggle to find enough employees to fill what they need for the season.”

Job fairs are upcoming in Sault Ste. Marie and in St. Ignace for those seeking employment. The Sault Ste. Marie job fair will be Thursday, March 23, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Lake Superior State University Walker Cisler Center. St. Ignace will hold its job fair on Tuesday, April 11, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Little Bear East Arena.

The St. Ignace job fair is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development Authority, St. Ignace Area Schools, the Community Consolidated School System, and Michigan Works. The purpose of the job fair, said Mr. Clapperton, is to provide a marketplace where employers and employees can show what they have to offer one another. Many local businesses, including a few newer businesses, such as the Mackinaw Pastie and Cookie Company, will be in attendance.

St. Ignace holds its job fair in April to keep it close to the time when many seasonal businesses will be reopening their doors. Hiring employees too early, with too much time before they will actually work and earn a paycheck, can sometimes cause the newly hired employees to seek other employment, leaving businesses with a lack of workers before they even open their doors.

“Most of our local businesses will be represented, as well as government, Department of Natural Resources, the Coast Guard, corrections, skilled trades, and colleges,” said Mr. Clapperton. “There is something for everyone.”

Prospective employees can come in to Michigan Works for help building a resume. It is not necessary to have a resume to attend the job fair, but it can help a person’s chance of finding a good job, said Mr. Clapperton.

“When you can go to an employer and give them a well-prepared resume of your qualifications and experience, it shows great initiative,” said Mr. Clapperton. “People like that will stand out.”

Another thing workers can do to help themselves is to dress well.

“Those who dress for success stand out to employers. We’ve had people come in pajama pants and slippers … but how (a person) dresses can help or hurt their chances of finding a job,” said Mr. Clapperton.

This season has the potential to present unique challenges in the job market. St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island, and other communities with tourist economies could be affected by a recent federal decision concerning H-2B worker visas. H-2B visas are issued to foreign workers in non-agricultural jobs, allowing them to come to the United States to work, provided they are filling a role that no other qualified American can, or is available to, fill. A total of 66,000 H-2B visas are granted each fiscal year, which runs from October 1 to September 30. A “returning worker” exemption, which went into effect December 18, 2015, allowed workers who had previously been in the U.S. on an H-2B visa between October 2012 and September 2015 to be cap-exempt for 2016. This means that the returning workers were not counted among the 66,000 cap on total workers. This exemption allowed nearly four times as many foreign workers to be in the U.S. on H-2B visas. This exemption was not renewed for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, meaning that the numbers of foreign workers allowed into the country may be significantly reduced.

Because the fiscal year begins in October, many workers are already in the country, while our local communities are in their off-season. Employers are only allowed to apply for workers 90 days before they anticipate opening. It is not yet known how this might affect the local area, but it is certainly a concern that employers are keeping an eye on. One of the other local challenges with H- 2B workers is having enough housing for them. Filling the open positions with local residents, when they are available, can help alleviate this challenge. Businesses save the fees and costs of bringing in the international workers, as well as supplying them with housing, by hiring local workers whenever possible.

“Businesses prefer to hire locals, but many of them have to rely on the H-2B workers because not enough locals are available,” said Mr. Clapperton. “When I owned a restaurant, my goal was to get 50 employees. I was never able to reach that goal. There are jobs available that businesses cannot fill [at all] with either foreign or local workers.”

The period from August to October is tough for businesses, as well, said Mr. Clapperton, because many workers who are college students, foreign or local, must leave for school, decreasing an already slim workforce for many businesses.

“The last two years have been great tourist years, and with the warmer winter we had, we expect this year to be great, as well,” said Mr. Clapperton.

Some businesses from St. Ignace and Mackinac Island were already able to take part in a job fair that took place in Mackinaw City Saturday, March 11. The fair was hosted by Michigan Works Northeast Consortium. Dave Droste is a business service professional with Michigan Works Northeast Consortium representing Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties. He said the feedback at the fair was positive.

“We had very good representation from the region. We advertised locally and downstate. We had 56 tables representing 98 businesses,” said Mr. Droste.

This was the first year that the Northeast Consortium job fair was hosted in Mackinaw City and was a regional fair. In previous years, the fair was held in and advertised to Cheboygan only. The fair included businesses from Cheboygan, Emmet, and Charlevoix counties, as well as St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Mackinac Island. Prospective workers came from as far downstate as Rochester, and even one college student who flew from Minnesota over spring break.

“We wanted to showcase northern Michigan as more than just seasonal work, but as a place where people can find careers,” said Mr. Droste.

He also expressed the need for more workers. A common problem in northern Michigan and the EUP is a lack of workers for skilled trades.

“There are a lots of opportunities in the skilled trades, but not enough qualified job seekers to fill those jobs,” he said. “We either have to find ways to train locally or reach out beyond our communities to find skilled workers. The answer is really both.”

Michigan Works Northeast Consortium moved their job fair from Cheboygan to Mackinaw City, and from April to March at the request of business owners. They believed that April was too late for them to fill their needs. As of Monday, March 13, 80 people had been hired of the more than 150 who attended the job fair. That number is expected to rise.

Businesses that would like to reserve a table for the Sault Ste. Marie fair can do so by calling Michigan Works UPWard at (906) 635-1752. To reserve a table for the St. Ignace fair, employers can call the Chamber of Commerce at (906) 643-8717, or the St. Ignace Michigan Works office at (906) 643-8158.

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