Business & Economy

Bennington’s first in-person job fair during pandemic draws big crowd

Around 100 jobseekers and 25 employers participated in the Vermont Department of Labor’s October Job Fest in Bennington on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. Photo courtesy of Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce

BENNINGTON — Lisa Sbrega was job hunting in Bennington on Wednesday when an activity outside the state office building caught her attention. It was a serendipitous discovery: Twenty-five employers were participating in the first in-person job fair in town since the coronavirus pandemic started.

Sbrega and her boyfriend recently moved to Bennington from Manchester, where she worked in a restaurant kitchen. She said she wouldn’t mind working in the food service industry again “if the money was right.” But in the meantime, she is looking for a job that would provide both good pay and benefits, specifically dental insurance.

After walking around the job fair — among a hundred job seekers who participated that sunny, fall day — Sbrega placed two employers on her short list. With her job experience in assembly work and nursing homes, she planned to apply with the Vermont Veterans’ Home, a state-run facility in Bennington, and Mack Molding, a manufacturer of plastic and metal parts headquartered in Arlington.

Mack Molding was among several exhibitors that told VTDigger they were pleased with the day’s turnout, amid a labor shortage that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

At its table, Mack Molding displayed 38 job titles for which it was hiring. But there could be more than one position open for each job, said metals supervisor Frank Gaudette.

The company, he said, largely needs full-time workers but is willing to accommodate part-timers. “It’s been hard to get workforce,” Gaudette said. “It’s gone to the point now that if we can make it work, we’ll make it work.”

Some of the participating employers handed out application forms, accepted resumes, even scheduled job interviews onsite.

As of September, according to the latest state Department of Labor data, Vermont’s unemployment rate decreased from 3% to 2.9%, a return to “near pre-pandemic levels.” The state’s unemployment spiked to 15.6% in April of last year, a month after the coronavirus pandemic hit Vermont.

The unemployment rate is the share of workers in the labor force who do not have a job and are actively looking for work. 

However, the department said in its unemployment report released Friday, Vermont’s labor force is down about 7%, or 25,000 people. The labor force is composed of people who are willing and able to work. 

The state said there were notable increases in jobs in real estate, rental and leasing; and construction. Declines were reported in local government jobs; arts, entertainment and recreation; and accommodation and food services.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate dipped from 5.2% to 4.8% in September, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The country’s unemployment rate hit a pandemic peak of 14.8% in April of last year.

Since the pandemic, workers have left jobs for a variety of reasons. Some who were deemed vulnerable to Covid-19 stayed home to protect themselves. Others needed to take care of children after child care centers closed, largely because of social distancing measures. Still others quit while they had a cushion from bigger government unemployment benefits.

The Vermont Department of Labor held its October Job Fest in Bennington on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, the first time that the department held an in-person job fair in town since the pandemic started. Photo courtesy of Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce

“I feel like there was a lot of soul-searching and figuring out what’s important,” Wendy Morse, the state labor department’s regional manager for southwestern Vermont, said on the sidelines of the Bennington job fair.

She said she was “beyond pleased” with the number of jobseekers who turned out, crediting the department’s collaborations with local partners and their getting the word out to the community through social media, flyers and a recent selectboard meeting.

The job fair, called the October Job Fest, is sponsored by the Vermont Department of Labor in collaboration with Creative Workforce Solutions, VocRehab Vermont and the Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce. It is held annually but was suspended in 2020 because of the public health emergency.

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Tiffany Tan

About Tiffany

Tiffany Tan is VTDigger's Southern Vermont reporter. Before joining VTDigger, she covered cops and courts for the Bennington Banner from 2018 to 2021. Prior to that, Tiffany worked for the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota and spent more than 10 years working for newspapers and television stations in Manila, Singapore and Beijing.

Email: [email protected]

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