Huntington Beach resident Shane Allen owns his own swimming pool maintenance business, but he's also enrolled in the welding program at Orange Coast College.
"I'm looking for a better opportunity to support my family," said Shane Allen, 40, a father of three.
Allen was among more than 2,000 applicants who attended Wednesday's Orange Coast College job fair.
Organizers said applicants looking for internships, apprenticeships and blue-collar, managerial and part-time work may have a better shot at finding those opportunities in an improving economy than they did in 2012.
Forty-four employers – 14 more than last year – participated in the annual event, said Rena Quinonez, director of the college's Job and Internship Center.
"More people are hiring every day," she said. "Our job boards have been full since the beginning of the year."
Students like Allen are drawn to highly skilled trades, which command starting salaries in line with four-year college degrees in the humanities, according to CNN.
More than a dozen welding students gathered around the Southern California Pipe Trades booth, where Carl Ritola, a local union organizer, searched for potential apprentices and pipe welders.
"There is going to be a huge demand for pipe welders by 2019," said Ritola. "We expect to be short 250,000 pipe welders."
A five-year apprenticeship program pays $17 an hour with benefits in the second year, Ritola said.
The Costa Mesa college offers employment help to students and the community.
OCC's online job board is available only to students, but the on-site career center and job listings are open to the public, Quinonez said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Medical Services Bureau was looking for both medical and nonmedical professionals to fill full-time county positions with benefits.
"Last year there were 50 vacancies, and we received over 1,000 applicants," said Christina Guevarra, a registered nurse and department representative.
The department will need registered nurses, pharmacists and medical assistants before the end of the year, Guevarra said.
Freshman Nubia Hernandez, 18, said she is hoping to get her first job at Rainbow After-School Care program in Huntington Beach, which is looking to fill teaching and childcare positions.
"I've always loved working with kids; it's my calling," said Hernandez, who has spent two years as a volunteer tutor and ballet instructor at Delhi Center in Santa Ana.
The company is looking to hire four to six positions at $10 per hour and up, based on experience, said Alison Bartells, co-director of Rainbow After-School Care.
Café Rio, Nordstrom Café and Panera Bread offered food service, baker and cook positions. Other companies at the job fair included the Automobile Club of Southern California, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Sergerstrom Center for the Arts and TJ Maxx.