Job fair attendees 'well-versed, very interested in what we have to offer'
After bouncing around between Pittsfield, Boston and Springfield when he was younger, Gilliam found himself living on the streets three years ago, a situation he describes as "horrible."
On Wednesday, Gilliam put the past further behind him when he received a job offer from Mountain View Home Care of Pittsfield during the 13th BerkshireWorks Career Center Job Fair at Berkshire Hills Country Club.
"I couldn't believe it," said Gilliam, 21, who works as a personal care assistant but wants to be a registered nurse. He's a member of BerkshireWorks Youth Program. "I've come a long way to bettering my life."
Receiving a job offer on the spot at a job fair is rare, but Gilliam's enthusiasm and professionalism were the deciding factors.
"He was professional, courteous and anxious to work," said Mountain View representative Bonnie Eichorn.
"We have to vet him, so it's not like he's hired today." she said. "But if everything works out, he'll go to work on Monday."
At 4 percent, Berkshire unemployment is at its lowest level of the year, but about 290 job seekers attended Wednesday's four-hour event that featured 76 Berkshire employers, 10 more than last year, according to BerkshireWorks Business Services representative Stephanie Caporale.
The space only had room for 70 employers, but BerkshireWorks managed to squeeze in six late arrivals.
"We had some extra tables that they were using for something else, but we made it work," she said.
A large number of job seekers also came prepared for the positions that were available because BerkshireWorks posted the jobs that would be offered in advance, Caporale said.
Company representatives said they noticed a difference in this year's attendees.
"Well-versed, very interested in what we have to offer," said Michelle Baity, the human resources director at Berkshire Families and Individual Resources in North Adams.
"In the past, it seemed like people were on a shopping expedition," Baity said. "Now it seems like they're really asking questions and are very engaged."
"They're a lot more involved than in years past," said Melissa Benoit of Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock.
But being prepared only gets a jobseeker so far,
"You still have to get in the door," said Tom Pytko, 53, of Pittsfield. Recently self-employed, Pytko has previously worked for a variety of Berkshire manufacturing companies.
"I heard about this on the radio. It's tough to find good work in Berkshire County."
Rodney Lynch of Pittsfield can relate. The 52-year-old said he has been unable to find steady employment since moving to Pittsfield from Raleigh, N.C., with his girlfriend last year. Like Gilliam, Lynch is also involved in a BerkshireWorks employment program.
"I have metal in my knee to my hip," Lynch said. "Any young boy can run circles around me on a good day."
Lynch said he wasn't looking for anything in particular.
"I hope a person can give me a break," he said.
Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.