Employment North, which has a catchment area from Callander to Burk's Falls, is calling its recent virtual job fair a success.
Luke Preston, site coordinator of Employment North's Sundridge office, says 40 to 50 people looking for work in the Almaguin Highlands connected to the job fair on Thursday through Zoom.
The virtual event replaced the physical job fair Employment North is unable to host because of COVID-19.
Preston says nine employers, from health care, transportation, construction and manufacturing, talked about their respective companies and job openings.
Partnering with Employment North on the event and making presentations were the Almaguin Highlands Chamber of Commerce, Almaguin Community Economic Development and the Labour Market Group.
To keep the virtual job fair manageable, Preston says job-seekers were kept on mute, but could ask questions through a chat mode which the panellists answered.
This was Employment North's second virtual fair, and Preston says “they're only going to get bigger” from here with another virtual event scheduled for sometime this spring.
“Many employers reached out to us between the first and second (virtual) job fairs asking if there was going to be another one,” he says. “There was a lot of interest. And with the COVID environment, we felt it was appropriate to have another job fair. Also from our first virtual job fair, people got interviews and progressed. We were pleased to hear that.”
In some ways, Preston says, it's easier to hold virtual job fair because there's no need to arrange the location and catering, as well as buy merchandise.
Employment North plans to continue holding both virtual and in-person job fairs.
One example of an in-person format is when the agency holds career days at Almaguin Highlands Secondary School.
Employment North executive director Donna Sedore says the virtual job fair took place just as job openings have increased in the Almaguin Highlands, with an uptick in the need for personal support workers and general labourers.
Sedore believes there are a few reasons for the job increases.
“A lot of places didn't expand last year or go beyond what they traditionally did because of the uncertainty around COVID,” she explains. “Many businesses had stopped working for a period of time and maybe some of their employees found other work. So that became an opportunity for new employees.”
Sedore says some employers, like Lofthouse Manufacturing of Burk's Falls, are expanding. The forging and manufacturing company has been on a recruiting drive.
Preston says Phoenix Building Components of Sundridge, a manufacturer of roof, floor and wall systems, also is busy.
Sedore notes that when the latest lockdown took place in December, although smaller businesses were shuttered, companies like Lofthouse and Phoenix were affected to the same extent.
“They were able to keep going because of the industries they're in,” she explains. “So some of this offsets the other (job losses).”
Sedore believes “a lot of great things are happening in Almaguin right now and we're pretty excited to be part of that.”
Finding affordable housing for employees, however, remains a challenge in the region.
Another challenge is reliable internet, which Preston points out makes it tougher to carry out virtual job fairs.
Employment North will promote the next virtual job fair through its Facebook page.
It also will get the word out through its sponsoring partners who, in addition to the agencies that took part in the last fair, also include Agilec and Employment Ontario.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget