Job Fair Seeks Placement for School Students

By KATHERINE WILEY

Maura Dickson needs a job.

So Wednesday afternoon she went to the high school gymnasium to chat with area businesses who were taking part in a job fair.

"I'm looking for a summer job because it's really hard to find a job at this time of year. All of the college kids call up," the high school senior said.

So she slowly made her way around the tables that lined the gym, picking up applications and asking questions.

"I love working with people, so I really want to find a job where I can do that," she said.

She wasn't alone in her search. All of the high schoolers attended the job fair, which was the culmination of a day-long career program organized by school-to-career coordinator Doris Clark. The event is a project of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School and Cape Cod Community College.

Over 30 businesses - everything from Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center to Donaroma's and the A&P - laid out pamphlets, applications and free gifts on tables that circled the high school gym. Students collected information about being a lifeguard, working for a professional baby-sitting service and at a hardware store.

"I already have a job, but a second job would be nice. I'm thinking of something in the late afternoon," said freshman Christine Honig. "Something that has to do with art."

She hadn't yet reached the Vineyard Clay House table, but it might be a good match. The paint your own pottery studio has working with young employees down to a science.

"We have four-hour shifts designed especially for kids, so it's not too stressful for them," said Lisa Spain who owns the the business with her husband Gregory.

They also offer a bonus program for students who work the amount of time they promise. "The idea is to enable them to commit to something and do it for a period of time," she said. Students can sign up to work from anything from one to five shifts a week.

Not all the students spent the afternoon diligently filling out applications and asking potential employers probing questions.

"They definitely like the goodies," said Sgt. Matt Whelan, a U.S. Army recruiter, "They grab one of these bags and go around. It's like trick-or-treating."

Indeed, most of the kids who came to his table took one of the big black plastic bags and a camouflage pencil, and then left to load up on candy and water bottles from other displays.

Others took the time to chat with friends in the middle of the gym and to compare their loot. Triangular highlighters were a big hit; so were key chains you could hang around your neck.

But for some students the day did more than provide entertainment or a break from class. Two girls asked Mr. Whelan whether they had to pay to join the army. "We pay you to get some good training," Mr. Whelan told them. "Eat three meals a day; get a roof over your head. Travel the world." He had them fill out cards and promised he'd call them the next time he returned to the Island.

While employers happily handed out information and free gifts, many were hoping to spurn some serious interest. After all, there are benefits to hiring Island students.

"The advantage is that you have people on weekends in the off-season. They have housing; you don't have to worry about that beast," said Sandi Hakala, manager of the Edgartown Inn. "They can come back year after year." She handed out over 25 applications during the first batch of students. If they were really interested, they could drop them off at the inn to talk more about the busing or kitchen work.

"I have a great thing to offer people though. They don't need experience to wait or bus or work in the kitchen, and I don't mind hiring 14 or 15-year-olds because they tend to work really hard," Ms. Hakala said.

Indeed, many of the employers noted that hiring Island workers can be a real boost to their businesses.

"We generally come to hope to get a few good, qualified high school kids," said retail sales manager Emily Meyer, who sat with human resource director Abbie Taylor at the Black Dog table. It was decorated with a red and white checked tablecloth and a tray of brownies. She explained that each year they hire students to work in their retail stores or bakery.

"The more employees we can get with housing - we're better off," Ms. Taylor added.

"My kids went to school here," she said. "I think we should do our best to support the Island."

The employers also emphasized that they have plenty to offer students. "We invest a lot of time and money and effort into training," said Nancy B. Blankenship, assistant vice president and branch manager at Compass Bank. "We even have opportunities for people to work part time all winter if they want to."

But the day's events were about more than helping kids get jobs for the summer. "It's to give the students some sort of spark about what they might do for their life work," Ms. Clark said. "Give them something to build on before they go off to college."

So earlier in the day, students attended workshops where they learned what it's really like to be a fashion designer or an architect.

Over 50 professionals gave presentations about their jobs, sharing information on how they got started, salaries in their profession and how their work affects their personal lives.

"I did the whole scheduling thing; it was monumental," Ms. Clark said. "I have likened it to having a wedding for 1,000 people." Each student signed up for three, 45-minute workshops.

"It was great," Ms. Dickson said. "I liked it because I really got to see inside of what people do. Of what a psychiatrist does, of a veterinarian."

Were there any surprises? "With the veterinarian job. You kind of think of that as being the job where you're just doing operations and stuff, but it's really more than that," she said, noting that as a vet she could work in a zoo with all sorts of animals.

While most of the companies at the job fair were looking for summer help, some were ready to offer careers.

Trudy Bennett was boosting Adelphia where high school graduates can work as service technicians or in customer service. "We like to make people aware of Adelphia as an employer on the Island. Right now, we actually don't have any openings, but when we do we obviously want to have qualified full-time people," she said.

She noted that companies like this can be a good first step. "We also have a lot of opportunities nationwide, because Adelphia is one of the largest cable companies in the country," Ms. Bennett said.

The same went for Fellowship Health Resources Inc., which was trying to find high school seniors to work with mentally ill adults. "We're recruiting for relief staff, but they have to graduate from high school," said administrative regional coordinator Kimberly Buldini.

Employees aid patients with treatment as well as help them carry out various tasks, like cooking and laundry.

"Staffing here is a challenge, so we're hoping we'll get a student who's going on to college, who's looking at social work," said Joe Larkin, the program director.

But at the end of the day, while many students walked away with a new supply of pens, others picked up some hot tips about the work world.

"Take a job and keep it; don't give up," advised freshman Gabe Finer.