Job Fair

The job fair allowed applicants to talk to employers from their cars to race the risk of coronavirus transmission. 

The Governor’s Job Fair Network held the largest drive-thru job fair in state history on Tuesday at the Landers Center. Over 200 people attended and 80 job offers were given.

Under outdoor tents spread across the lot, representatives of 20 companies waited for candidates to drive by. This setup marked a major change of pace from the job fairs held at the Landers Center in earlier years, where 50 or more employers would huddle inside.

“The tables were almost butted together… you had people coming at you from all directions,” said Kathy Leverett, a human resources director at Future Electronics. 

The flow of traffic was slow and steady throughout the fair this year. Even if candidates had packed the parking lot bumper to bumper, it still wouldn’t have been enough to meet demand. The companies involved are trying to fill thousands of open positions, the vast majority being warehouse jobs. 

Sharp increases in online shopping because of the coronavirus pandemic have placed strains on many company supply chains, increasing demand for workers in an already crowded market.

“This time of the year, it is kind of difficult to fill warehouse positions due to the steep competition that comes along with the market area we live in,” said LaQuare Robinson, a human resources business partner at Siemens Industry.

FedEx is looking to hire between 500-1,000 package handlers in Olive Branch alone. Another 300 are needed in Southaven. The company is also recruiting for the peak holiday season earlier than it normally would to prepare for another spike in deliveries. 

“Due to e-commerce, volume has grown a lot faster than I think any of us anticipated,” said Samantha Jones, talent acquisition coordinator at FedEx Ground in Olive Branch. 

In this environment, these companies are all vying for the same talent pool. With others offering similar jobs, pay and benefits, employers have to work hard to attract new workers and keep those they do have. For example, Associated Wholesale Grocers is incentivizing long-term employment with the company through a $2,000 “new hire retention bonus.” 

Several recruiters attributed their hiring difficulties to the $600 per week enhanced jobless benefits Congress authorized in March for those left unemployed due to COVID-19. Before the benefits expired at the end of July, many were making more on unemployment than they had at their former jobs. 

A study conducted by economists at Yale University, though, found that those who received the extra $600 in unemployment returned to work at similar rates as others who did not.  Another study conducted by an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that people preferred the stability of long-term employment over a temporary pay bump from collecting unemployment checks. 

It was a desire for that security that motivated Deitriyana Hopkins to drive nearly an hour from Tunica to attend the job fair. The 20-year-old has been looking for work since her contract at the Horseshoe Casino expired. She left the Landers Center parking lot feeling confident, like she had options. 

“I'm going to start working for one of them. Probably FedEx or Amazon,” Hopkins said.

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