Clutching her leather portfolio tightly to her chest, Lori Sage calmly walked from one brochure-covered table to the next Wednesday, politely saying “Thank you,” as employer after employer rejected her.
“This is pretty scary to me,” the 36-year-old graphic artist said. “Everybody I ask says, ‘No, we don’t have a graphic arts department.’ I’m thinking about going back to school and changing careers.”
Sage, who has been unemployed for eight months, was among dozens of people searching for work at Ventura College’s job fair Wednesday, where women in business suits, men in ties and students in tie-dyed T-shirts filled out applications and peddled their resumes to 63 employers assembled on the college patio.
With more than 30,000 people unemployed in Ventura County, the annual event provides an opportunity for older job-seekers and young college students alike to see what kind of work is available.
But for many, the outlook continues to be grim.
“I’ve done a number of interviews, it just seems like the employers these days can pick from the cream of the crop,” said Alan Lomax, 32, a former travel agent who has been collecting unemployment since he was laid off in October.
“It’s kind of discouraging,” the Ventura resident said. “I’m looking at anything that pays $7 an hour and I was making a lot more than that. More like $12 an hour with commission.”
Sage, who lives in Ventura with her husband, said the rejections associated with job hunting can destroy a person’s self-esteem.
“It grates on you,” she said. “After a while you start to say, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’ ”
Rheda Gomberg, who runs the college’s career center and job placement office, said despite the frustrations, job-seekers should persist and realize that the economy will eventually turn around.
“I’m always hopeful,” Gomberg said. “The jobs are there, but the competition is keen. The hardest job in the world is looking for a job.”
Judging by the employers represented at the job fair, employment opportunities are available in government, law enforcement, the military, temporary agencies and retail stores like The Limited and WalMart.
The sparse number of employers at this year’s fair--63 compared to more than 100 in past years--is the lowest the 17-year-old event has ever seen, Gomberg said.
However, the small number of recruiters was not necessarily a reflection of the overall job market, Gomberg said, but in part a result of budget cutbacks at the college that led to the layoff of her assistant, who helped with recruiting.
Recently, Gomberg said the college’s career center has seen a slight increase in job postings and hirings, which she attributes to businesses such as computer manufacturer Packard Bell moving to the county after the Northridge earthquake.
Businesses like Packard Bell, which moved to Westlake after its facility in Chatsworth was destroyed in the Jan. 17 quake, were at the job fair recruiting Ventura County residents for the first time.
“We’re finding some extremely qualified people in Ventura County,” said Greg Llana, a recruiter for Packard Bell.
Llana said the company had 150 positions available, including manufacturing and engineering jobs, but acknowledged that they are seeking highly qualified individuals.
“Eighty-seven percent of the (applicants) we get for our positions are not qualified,” said Marrty A. Koenig, also a recruiter with Packard Bell.
Katherine Cordova, manager of Clothestime in Agoura Hills, said: “We’re going to be opening some stores in the Valley that we lost in the earthquake so we’re going to be doing a lot of hiring.”
State Department of Corrections Lt. Julenda Clancy said the prison business is booming, partly because of the poor economy.
“As the economy gets worse, our intake gets higher,” she said.
Clancy said about 2,000 correctional officers are needed statewide to staff three new prisons.
But some Ventura College students were unimpressed with the opportunities presented Wednesday.
Santa Paula resident Zoey Freeburn, 20, was frustrated that so many positions require a four-year college degree. “It’s kind of silly if you’re (recruiting) at Ventura College,” which is a two-year college, she said.
Oxnard resident Amado Johnson, 24, shrugged while halfheartedly holding up a handful of applications. “I don’t see anything right now,” he said.