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O.C. BUSINESS PLUS

Matching Workers With Right Employers Is Fair Game

Hundreds of Orange County job seekers and employers gather at Santa Ana College to shop in a tight market.

September 22, 2000|LESLIE EARNEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In one of the nation's tightest labor markets, Pamala Martinez quit her job 2 1/2 months ago to make the leap from retail to office work.

She's still dangling in thin air.

"Somebody told me it was a good time to be out of work," the 46-year-old Anaheim resident said. "I've been [job hunting] two months. Obviously I'm not doing something right."

Martinez was one of hundreds of job hunters who crowded a job fair at Santa Ana College on Thursday, an event as important to the area's worker-hungry employers as it was to the applicants.

In addition to proving there are still plenty of people out of work in Orange County, the strong turnout by both employers and candidates illustrated two crucial points about today's job market: Companies need more workers and workers want more money.

Indeed, with Orange County's unemployment rate hovering below 3%, the biggest challenge most companies face is simply finding workers. With that goal in mind, 90 employers--from Krispy Kreme to UPS to Walt Disney Co.--wooed applicants Thursday with everything from chocolate kisses to doughnuts. They offered a wide range of jobs, from hotel housekeeping positions paying minimum wage to executive posts boasting six-figure salaries.

Some recruiters said they are feeling additional pressure to find employees because Disney will be reeling in thousands of people in coming months to staff its new California Adventure theme park.

"It's like a suction going toward Anaheim, so we're countering the process," said Felipe Guerena, a recruiter for Marriott hotels.

And the hotel chain is going to extraordinary measures to snag the workers before Disney does. When Marriott isn't attending job fairs, it recruits at parks, strip malls, bus stops and even laundermats, Guerena said. "You do what you've got to do," he said.

"It's tough," said Tim Felix, human resource manager for SAS Retail Merchandising, which provides workers to stock grocery stores and pays $8.75 to $10 an hour.

But some applicants said they need higher-paying jobs.

"I can't survive on anything less" than $12 an hour, said Rose Wolfe, a 60-year-old Santa Ana resident who said she has become discouraged by a year of searching for a permanent job. And she's not picky. "I do assembly and office work. Whatever comes first, I'll take."

Some job seekers were looking to get back into the work force after disappointing setbacks. Lam Le's first job out of college was with an Internet company that "ran out of cash."

"It was just my luck that the first company I signed up with didn't do too well, so I'm back pounding the pavement," said the Fountain Valley resident, who had about 25 resumes tucked in a leather folder. Le, 23, said he wants a salary of at least $35,000 a year.

Some at the job fair said the rosy unemployment statistics can be misleading.

"In spite of the low unemployment rate, there's still a lot of people out there who are looking for work, in transition or looking for better jobs," said Xavier Gutierrez, a representative with the state Employment Development Department, which staged the event with a number of other governmental agencies and community groups.

Everywhere, companies made pitches:

"They're very flexible with their scheduling," said a recruiter for Knott's Berry Farm. "You just need to be available on weekends."

"It's an awesome opportunity," cooed an Avon worker, describing how employees can become "certified beauty advisors"--allowing them to do complete cosmetic make-overs--after taking an eight-hour course.

While the fair was scheduled to run from 2 to 7 p.m., Krispy Kreme set up its table at noon, looking for counter workers, janitors and doughnut makers. By 2:30, half the applications were gone.

Even the Marines showed up for the job fair, looking for a few good men. Or women.

But the students who stopped by the Marine's table in the first couple of hours weren't drawn by the prospect of a military career.

"Mostly they're all interested in continuing their college education through the Marine Corps," said 18-year-old Pvt. 1st Class Gustavo Terrazas.

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