2,500 turn out for Caterpillar job fair
Reposted from Winston-Salem Journal | by Richard Craver
A dose of reality was probably the main thing that 2,500 job seekers took away from Caterpillar Inc.'s first job fair for its $426 million manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem.
Tuesday's event at Forsyth Technical Community College's West campus served as the site for dropping off résumés, briefly meeting plant managers and being directed to the www.JoinTeamCaterpillar.com website for posting a profile. A second, larger job fair is scheduled tentatively for late July.
Forsyth Tech officials have projected that there will be at least 10 applicants for every Caterpillar job opening, or about 4,000 applicants for the 392 full-time jobs. Caterpillar is expected to work through a temporary-employment agency in hiring up to an additional 118 contract workers.
The turnout for a limited number of positions — assemblers, painters, quality technicians, forklift drivers and production supervisors — made it clear that the odds of getting hired will be daunting.
However, it didn't deter job seekers eager, if not desperate, to somehow get their foot in the door with Caterpillar even if their skills set didn't match up with the initial job openings.
Rebecca Steel came from Marion, Va. — about 2½ hours away — for a shot at working for a company "that has been around for decades and decades."
"Everybody's here for the same reason — stability," Steel said. "I've done my research on Caterpillar and know it is expanding and likely will be in Winston-Salem to stay."
Although Steel said her skills are primarily clerical, she has done assembly work.
"I just want to be given the chance to show what I have to offer and convince them I would be an asset to the company," Steel said. "I'm saying a lot of prayers it will turn out that way."
Stephanie Ward, human relations manager for the local plant, said the company will take about two weeks to sort through the online profiles before beginning to contact applicants for an employment test and interviews.
"It's a great problem to have with this much interest in Caterpillar," she said. "It's exciting to see this many people anxious to go to work for us."
The large turnout was not surprising to Archie Hicks, manager of the N.C. Employment Security Commission's office in Winston-Salem.
"People know they are applying for real jobs here, not jobs that companies hope they may have soon," Hicks said. "That's raised the excitement of the applicants.
"They also know from seeing this level of attendance it's not going to be easy to prove they are the right person for Caterpillar. If they don't bring the skills and the enthusiasm to each step of the process, they risk not standing out."
Carlos McClam of Winston-Salem said he worked at the Deere-Hitachi Construction Machinery Corp. plant in Kernersville and the Dell Inc. plant in Winston-Salem. He said his Dell job was eliminated in May 2009, about five months before the company announced its plant-closing plans.
"Unlike assembling desktops for Dell, these are not here-today and gone-tomorrow jobs," McClam said. "There's a sense of permanence with Caterpillar."
The large turnout is more proof that the actual unemployment rate in the Triad is likely higher than April's 9.7 percent, said Sherry Jarrell, an economics and finance professor at Wake Forest University Schools of Business.
It's also a sign that Caterpillar should meet its goals of hiring quality workers, she said.
"The particular kinds of jobs that Caterpillar is trying to fill require skill sets that are already out there," Jarrell said. "People are ready to fill these jobs now, based on experience in other industries."
The irony of being in Forsyth Tech's West campus building was not lost on Hiram Stover of Greensboro, who got in line at 6:30 a.m. hoping to take the first step toward work in assembly or as a forklift operator.
A little more than five years ago, Stover was one of 1,800 applicants in the building taking a three-hour skills-assessment test for Dell.
"I worked at Dell for four years, being in the second round of hires," Stover said. He said he was let go in Dell's first round of full-time job cuts in November 2009.
"We all thought Dell was going to provide stable, full-time jobs," he said, "but the plant closing showed that fast-changing technology can kill jobs as much as create them."
Caterpillar would be different, Stover stressed, because it is going to make a product here — axle assemblies for large trucks — that's in high demand worldwide.
"I just feel it in my bones that Caterpillar would be a great company to work for," Stover said.