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More than 100 employers seek workers at job fair

By Jeri Chadwell

The Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday held a job fair with more than 100 local companies looking for new employees.

It was the first such event hosted by the chamber, said CEO Ann Silver, and it was a bigger success than she’d expected.

Ann Silver, CEO of Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce
Ann Silver, CEO of Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce

“We’re thrilled,” she said. “We have over a hundred employers here. We’ve had hundreds of job seekers. I actually think it’s better to have more employers gathered together—which sparks people’s interest that they can come to one location and talk about many, many different job opportunities.”

Silver said the chamber would not normally organize a job fair, but its members are in particular need of employees.

“We want to promote them and the incredible job opportunities they have all throughout this community to get people back to work,” she said. “I think we owe this to the community. This event is sparking an interest in not only the opportunities that are available … but all the types of jobs that there are in this community. We’re not driven by one industry … and it’s an employee-driven market right now.”

Small and large businesses across the country have been facing an employee shortage. The pandemic has disrupted the U.S. economy and jobs market. Some people have blamed extended and federally supplemented unemployment benefits for the slow return of job seekers to a market that’s desperate for them. Others have called upon employers to incentivize the return of workers with better pay and benefits.

Among the employers present at the fair were the local hospitals, casinos, restaurants, gyms and myriad others.

More jobs than applicants for many businesses

Clara Lougy, patient access manager for Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center, said the hospital is hiring for positions in her department. The job description includes greeting patients entering the hospital and gathering their insurance information, verifying demographics, creating an estimate for the cost of services and letting patients know their estimated share of those costs, among other things.

“It is entry level. So, we have full-time, part-time and per diem positions,” Lougy said, adding that anyone at the job fair would qualify for the positions. “Historically in patient access with Saint Mary’s being so close to UNR, we’ve had students that fill those per diem positions because they’re able to really work around their school schedules.”

She said she’s not certain if it’s the pandemic or not, but her department has had positions open and fewer applicants for them recently.

The Chop Shop in Reno. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.
The Chop Shop in Reno has had to cut its hours because of a staffing shortage. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.

Steve Ferguson and his wife are the independent franchisees of Chop Stop, a salad restaurant with a drive-thru. They opened the store about seven months ago and said they’re also struggling to fill positions.

“We’re basically looking for all positions,” he said. “We’ve had to cut our hours 25% because we don’t have enough employees. So, we’re closing at 7 p.m. temporarily until we get staffed up again. We’re looking for cashiers, prep cooks, salad makers and shift leaders. And we need about 18 people to run the restaurant at full staffing.”

The restaurant currently has only 10 staffers. The positions Ferguson is offering start at $12 per hour, plus tip sharing. Employees who certify to be cashiers, prep cooks and salad makers qualify for $12.75. There’s also a quarterly bonus program and an annual profit sharing program that pays into a company-sponsored 401k.

Ferguson said he thought the job fair was going well.

“I think we’ve gotten a few leads on some decent candidates, some we’ve set up appointments with.” he said. “And I’m hoping that they actually follow through.”

Steven Reffo is the director of front office operations at the Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel & Spa, which is looking to fill a variety of hospitality positions from food and beverage to housekeeping and restaurant staff.

“It is the current challenge right now, to staff,” he said. “There’s demand, and people are back traveling. Absolutely, it is a big challenge for us … at this point. People are not coming back for interviews. They’re not following up, answering calls, things like that. So, it is harder than normal.”

To attract new employees, the hotel is looking into offering referral bonus and sign-on bonus programs.

“It’s definitely in favor of the job applicant right now. It’s their job market as opposed to the businesses’ market.”

Employees looking for balance, benefits

Robert Oliver, a father of five, was at the job fair with his spouse and four-month-old daughter and was feeling out which employers were offering the best incentives to applicants. He’s worked as a cook for years but lost his job during the pandemic. He said he went back to that job but found it was no longer meeting his needs. Now, he’s looking for a place that will offer him better work-life balance.

“I went back and realized at the job I was working at I wasn’t [appreciated] as [much] as in the beginning,” Oliver said. “They wanted me to work all of these hours with not the pay I was asking for. So, I quit. And I had a new baby on the way, so I wanted to spend some time with her and then get back on the market.”

By early afternoon, he’d already applied for four restaurant jobs and booked two interviews—one at the Nugget and the other at the Eldorado. He was seeking an interview with the Renaissance as well.

The service industry was hard-hit by pandemic closures, and now many hospitality businesses such as Renaissance Hotel are looking to hire many new workers.

Anthony Dekany is a college student. He was at the fair looking for a part-time job to start over the summer and continue working when school starts back up in the fall. He was pleased that most of the employers with whom he’d spoken were offering between $16 to $20 per hour starting wages and incentives in some cases.

“It’s been pretty easy,” he said. “You go up and ask them, and they give you tons of information, papers, all of that. … Some of the training positions look cool, like personal trainers, things like that. There’s two different gyms here, one’s a kickboxing gym. The other one’s a regular gym.”

Matthew Patrovsky, the owner of the kickboxing gym Dekany expressed interest in, said he was at the job fair for two reasons.

“We’re looking for kickboxing trainers, of course,” he said. “And then we’re also looking to help businesses that are looking for some sort of incentive plan for their employees, their new hires or for retention. We can offer that with a fitness program for employees. And that’s two-fold. It’s something the employee wants, and … you get a healthier, happier employee.”

He said it’s been difficult to find employees in recent months but that it’s a problem he thinks is more or less universal for businesses these days.

“We’re hiring, but we’re not getting a lot of applicants—and that’s true across the board for everyone. It’s definitely in favor of the job applicant right now. It’s their job market as opposed to the businesses’ market,” he said.

Like Patrovsky, Victor Canales—a recent transplant from San Jose—found himself at the job fair for an alternate purpose. He’s a human resources professional seeking a job but didn’t find many in that field on offer at the fair. Instead, he said he’d found other HR professionals there representing the various companies and was able to start networking with them to get a bead on future job openings.

“It seems like there’s a lot of service industry jobs here, which I’m really not surprised,” Canales said. “It seems like they’ve got a bit of a shortage in the area and regionally, too. But, so far, it’s been great networking. There are a lot of professionals that are in my background here, so it’s great to connect.”

Jobless workers are expected to really start feeling the pinch in September when supplemental unemployment benefits funded by the federal government as part of its pandemic-recovery packages expire. Even with the number of jobs currently available, the jobless rate in Reno had fallen to 4.6% by this spring. 

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