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Posted: July 22, 2009

Speed dating for jobs

150 young people land jobs at Goodwill Industries event

Carli Auran

The lobby of the Denver Crowne Plaza Hotel buzzed with young men in suits, jackets and ties and young ladies wearing skirts and heels. There were many nervous smiles, but before long the mood turned to pure excitement, as one person after another landed a new job.  

On July 15, Goodwill Industries put on the summer youth employment program -- structured similar to speed dating with seven-minute interviews -- which by the end of the day provided jobs to more than 150 young people, ages 14 to 24.

"It's a nerve-wracking experience, but it’s all worth it," said Briana Exum, 14, a newly hired employee of the American Liver Foundation. She said she came to the event with her “A-game” and had no trouble scoring a great job.

The youths learned about the job fair from teachers at school, Little League coaches and flyers posted around their communities. In order to attend, they needed to fill out a required information packet for Goodwill, which was sent in for a week of government processing. Then the young men and women were assigned a case worker and sent to job-readiness training before the event, which was funded by a $300,000 government stimulus grant and the Denver Office of Economic Development.

"We're one of three contractors who received funding to employ youth over the summer," said Goodwill spokesperson Meaghan Carabello. "Our task is to find jobs for 200 young people."

Carabello said a variety of nonprofit organizations, as well as large corporate companies attended the event looking for new employees. The government funding will be used to pay the young people for their work with the participating businesses.

Exum said of the program: "We learned things like what to wear, what nail polish was too loud to use, basically how to get and keep a job.” She was hired in her first interview, after about 15 minutes. Exum said her interviewer told her the age cut off was 16 years old, but then that person took one look at her resume, and even though she was 14, gave her the job.

Kirasten Blaire said she was also lucky enough to be hired in her first interview.

"The lady was nice, she made you want to do the job," said Blaire about her conversation with a representative from a state senator’s office. Blaire will be working full time over the summer and will continue part time during the school year.

"When I get older, I don't want to just be starting a job, I want to know what to do once I get into the real world," Blaire said. She said she was happy to have gotten hired so quickly and advised others who weren't so lucky to keep their hopes up.

"Stay confident and if you don't get hired, just keep going because there is a place that will hire you," she said.

Other students continued their searches for employment throughout the morning.

Marcus Hives, 17, stood in line in the lobby of the hotel, resume in hand, waiting for his next interview. "I'm looking to find something that’s not just temporary, something to invest my time in." Hives said.

The employers who attended the job fair enforced a strict set of requirements for the youths to fulfill. They were looking for the best of the bunch and nothing less, they said.

"I was looking for a professional individual, someone older with a little experience to answer phones, speak clearly, have initiative, call the database," said employer Paul Hartman. He found that person in the first interview and said the event helped him find a competent new employee. "(Goodwill) did a great job considering they've never done it before. The staff has been really helpful and everybody has got a common goal here," he said

Julie Schelin of Colorado Housing and Finance Authority hired three students. She was looking for "those that were willing to jump in and take on a new challenge and work hard."

Two of the youths are working toward degrees in finance and the other newly hired employee hopes to become an entrepreneur. Schelin said since CHFA is a mission-based organization that focuses on helping people financially, the new employees would fit right into their new environment.

Other companies did not find what they were looking for right away. Bryon Williams of Greystone Technology Group interviewed 10 people before hiring one person. "It's just a gut feeling, honestly," Williams said about choosing his employee. "I was looking for someone who was positive, articulate, eager and had the basic skill set required for the job."

Illume Branding president Christian Simms has been working with at-risk youth for more than 12 years. He heard about the event from program director Stephanie Dixon and said because he came from the same kind of background as many of the attending youth, he was happy to participate. As a teenager, Simms had adults who cared about him and wanted to help him succeed. "What kind of person would I be if I didn't do the same for others?" he said.

Carabello said she was pleased to see the event was such a success and that Goodwill could be a part of helping young people find jobs.

"This really fits well with what we do," Carabello said, adding that the job-placing opportunity couldn't have come at a more perfect time "especially nowadays with unemployment rates so high."

The national unemployment rate for 16 to 19 year olds was 21.5 percent, and 14.7 percent for 20 to 24 year olds, as of April, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau for Labor Statistics.

"It was definitely a rewarding experience," said Exum, as she held her signed employee contract from American Liver Foundation.

"It was a fantastic opportunity for both us and the community," said Williams of Greystone Technology Group.

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Carli Auran is a senior at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch. She is an intern at ColoradoBiz.

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