Those hungry for work gather at South Jersey job fair

At the Collingswood Ballroom , Franklin Truitt of Camden fills out paperwork in hopes of finding a warehouse job. When a participant at the job fair lands a job, the bell at left is rung. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
At the Collingswood Ballroom , Franklin Truitt of Camden fills out paperwork in hopes of finding a warehouse job. When a participant at the job fair lands a job, the bell at left is rung. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: October 26, 2012

For eight years, Isaak Ivitsky ran a computer system at a Chester County company, receiving glowing reviews from his boss. Then a new manager took over. First came harassment, Ivitsky says, followed by a bad review and finally, outsourcing of his job.

"It was age discrimination," charged the 66-year-old Cherry Hill resident, one of nearly 3,000 hopefuls Wednesday at Camden County's semiannual job fair at the Collingswood Ballroom.

Along with the county freeholder board and One-Stop Resource Center, the event's sponsors were the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development and various Camden County agencies.

The festive decor at the grand old building, adorned with harvest-colored balloons and bowls of Halloween candy on tables, belied the somber mood of job-seekers as they faced more tricks than treats: Yes, there were jobs, but many offered no benefits, paid holidays, or vacation.

There was even more reason to be glum. The state's unemployment rate last month was 9.8 percent, the fourth highest in the nation, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

It wasn't all bad news for the Garden State: Private-sector employers added 41,600 jobs between September 2011 and September 2012.

Last month saw job increases in several sectors: information, education and health services; industry, finance, and trade; and transportation and utilities. Losers were construction, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality.

The public sector shed 2,300 jobs in September, primarily due to cuts in government positions. Average hourly earnings for production workers were $19.35 during the month, a decline of 21 cents, and weekly wages dropped $6.65 to $793.35.

Ivitsky, a Russian immigrant who wore a suit, a tie, and a long-suffering air, said he hadn't worked full time since he was laid off in 2007. He's found some short-term jobs and was looking for temp work at SYNERFAC Technical Staffing, a national agency with offices in Cherry Hill and Bala Cynwyd.

Paul Smith, who manned the SYNERFAC table, sympathizes with those who want more than hourly pay. But companies can't afford to hire full-timers, he said. That's why they turn to agencies like his.

"It's tough, it is really tough out here," Smith conceded, as Pete Melendez, a 43-year-old father of three teenagers, asked about work.

Melendez, of Folsom, has landed two temp jobs through SYNERFAC, but neither paid more than $12 an hour or offered benefits.

"It's a dead-end," he said, adding that his wife's job "is the only thing holding us up."

At MEDTalents Inc., a medical staffing company with a branch in Marlton, only doctors and high-level managers are offered "direct hire," or full-time work, according to staffing supervisor Georgia Gutekunst. Everyone else is per diem.

For Natalie Ramos, 25, a certified home health aide who is a single mother, a daily rate won't do.

"I have two children. Benefits are a must," said Ramos, who wore a pink jacket and had her hair pulled back in a ponytail.

The beneficiaries of per-diem work are the health-care companies, which don't have to pay for health insurance, vacations, and holidays, and can easily get rid of undesirable workers, Gutekunst said.

"It's more cost-efficient," she said.

Ramos submitted an application anyway.

"A job is a must," she said, "even if it doesn't have benefits."


Contact Kathy Boccella at kboccella@phillynews.com or follow @kmboccella on Twitter.

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