Speed Dating on the Job Scene

December 5, 2023, 12:21 pm Peter Bigelow

Stereotypes abound, but don’t let first impressions fool you.

You never know quite what you may run into when you go looking to hire new staff. Such was certainly the case for me at a local job fair hosted by a state-sponsored regional workforce development organization.

I received the invitation from the local Chamber of Commerce to have a table at this event. The cost was free and the hours were 9 a.m. through 1:30 p.m. Based on the description, I thought the chance was reasonable to find a couple hires to fill openings in our drilling and plating departments. While it has been years since I participated in a job fair, I was familiar with the format and the similarity to the proverbial "speed dating": quick conversation and move on!

Consistent with my expectations, on the specified day I show up bright and early at a community college, find the massive meeting room, locate my table among the 50 or so others in the room, and set it up with information about the company as well as the industry. All the tables were spoken for, and looking at the plethora of companies in attendance, I noted most were service providers. A good number, however, were manufacturing companies that produced everything from pianos to metal castings, with two of us, an EMS company and my circuit board fabrication company, representing "high technology."

Set up and ready to go, that is, when reality and my expectations diverged. Attendance was certainly plentiful. There was also a lot of gray and white hair. In fact, I would say the average age of those manning tables for their respective companies was younger than the average age of the attendees looking for a job!

More interesting was talking with the attendees. I really did not expect to hear life stories, or what prospective hires did not want to do. One of the younger folks to stop by was looking for a flexible schedule. When I asked why, the reply was: "Because I like to sleep in some mornings." It's no surprise, I suppose, he has worked for eight companies over the past six years. Many were retirees looking for part-time work, which preferably paid cash under the table. Some were looking to make a career change, but those candidates had no interest in manufacturing jobs; only office positions would do.

Possibly the most interesting character I met was an older guy full of personality, very engaging and funny – might be great in a sales role. Yet he was not looking for a job. Instead, he prowls job fairs in search of new swag. I am sure he was disappointed with what I had to offer, but the table next to me – a health club – was giving away beverage tumblers, so he at least scored there.

The gray-and-white-haired folks mostly appeared to be retirees who had had long careers at one place or another. The jobs they were looking for were mostly part-time, and on their terms. They wanted the employer to be flexible, but as employees they were not willing to reciprocate.

Meanwhile, the younger attendees who stopped by my table seemed to be looking for a "gig" versus a "job" or career. I was taken aback by how poorly they communicated, how casually they dressed for this gathering of potential employers, and how little they seemed to understand that jobs of all kinds have structured hours and require commitment.

I was ready to write off the experience and leave early when what felt like a changing of shifts occurred, similar to when the day workers log out and the afternoon shift logs in. Attendees began sauntering out, I presumed because it was approaching noon. However, after no more than five minutes, the room began to fill up again but this time the demographics looked quite different. The average age, and appearance, was decidedly younger. The pace was brisker.

The first person of this second wave who stopped at my table knew about circuit boards and electronics. He was an experienced, mid-career electrical engineer seeking to make a change where there would be upward career mobility. He was followed by a young woman with a degree in microbiology who was interested in finding a position in quality or compliance. Over the next hour, I met some impressive people. While none in either wave of attendees met the needs for the drilling or plating positions I needed to fill, I invited a couple to the plant for a round of interviews, and hired one for a more senior role.

The day did not go as anticipated but was still successful on a couple of levels. First, I did find someone to hire. Maybe not for the position I had planned to recruit for, but nevertheless, I found a solid addition to the team. Second, I was reminded how too many younger people really do not understand the demands of working for a large organization. Too many are living as if they are still in high school waiting for the next school vacation, rather than embracing the fact they now must make decisions, take personal pride in their dress and social skills, and commit to doing something that will provide a livelihood.

Clearly there are some who are career-oriented, looking for a better job and the opportunity to personally grow. Those who took the time to come out on their lunch break demonstrated they were committed and willing to invest their time exploring other jobs. Finally, having been reacquainted with job fairs, it still is a good way to find potential employees. The trick is to keep an open mind.

Peter Bigelow is President / CEO of IMI... Email is: pbigelow@imipcb.com

About IMI Inc.

Founded in 1971, IMI is a leading provider of commercial and military, technologically-advanced printed circuit boards with significant expertise in fabricating on all types of PTFE/Duroid, polyimide, and more traditional FR-4 based laminates as well as mixed construction applications. Based in Haverhill, Massachusetts, IMI is MIL certified, ITAR registered as well as AS9100/ ISO9001 registered and focuses on leading Aerospace, Military, Medical, RF/Microwave and Industrial electronics OEMs and contract manufacturers from its Haverhill facility. For more information, visit www.imipcb.com.