Photo Gallery | 2016 BerkshireWorks job fair
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire unemployment has dropped below four percent for the first time in nine years. The last time the state unemployment rate was at 3.9 percent was August 2001.
But numbers don't tell the whole story. There are still plenty of people looking for work.
Many of them traveled to the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Wednesday to attend the 12th annual BerkshireWorks Career Center Job Fair. Some 300 people attended last year's event, and 385 attended on Wednesday, according to BerkshireWorks officials.
Held in partnership with Berkshire Community College, the event drew 66 local employers to the hotel's ballroom, including three that were allowed to enter when they showed up Wednesday morning.
Unlike previous years, when the local and state unemployment rates were much higher, many of Wednesday's job seekers were already employed. Some were either looking for a better job, or trying to land a second one.
"There are a lot looking for work who want to change what they're in," said Stephanie Hambleton, a BerkshireWorks business service representative, who ran Wednesday's event.
Employers noticed a difference in the job seekers, too.
"I think it's a different crowd this year," said Stacy McCarthy, who helped man a table for Berkshire Bank. "It's more of a professional crowd, more eager, I guess you could say."
"They came with questions and materials for the jobs they want," added Berkshire Bank representative Kathy Lein.
"They're ready to have a conversation with you," said Barbara Emanuel, a representative of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, who is a former BerkshireWorks employee who had run this event before.
In the past, job seekers had seemed to come to this event with desperation, Emanuel said.
One reason for Wednesday's optimism was that the employers were required to have actual job openings in order to participate.
"The ticket into the job fair was the open positions that employers had to have," Hambleton said. "We thought it was an important thing to do. A number of the employers thought it was a good idea."
Job seekers ranged from teenagers to senior citizens. The group included three people who said they were in recovery, and had been given permission to leave the hospital rehabilitation program they have been attending to seek work. One of them said he had found a job at the event.
"We're trying to become productive members of society," one of them said.
"(Work) helps you to build structure in your life," said another.
"I'm working, but I'm looking for a better job," said Luz Salazar of Lee, a native of Colombia, who does not own a computer. Salazar. who is over 50, said her lack of a computer makes it difficult for her to find a job online.
"I have to go to the library," to apply, she said.
Joshua A. Froebel of Pittsfield had worked as an executive for a local company but said he lost his job about eight weeks ago when the firm restructured.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for me to come in contact with all these different employers," said Froebel, who is 35. "I might find something that's up my alley."
Michael Martin of Pittsfield, who is 63, said he retired two years ago, but was looking to get back in the workforce "just for something to do."
Eliza Ruusukallio of Pittsfield was looking for a second job.
"Honestly, one job will never cut it," said Ruusukallio, who is 20. "You never have enough money."
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.