With more openings than workers, Watertown job fair set for Thursday

WATERTOWN — Cheryl A. Mayforth hopes she can fill many of the 1,800 jobs available at The Workplace’s annual job fair on Thursday.

But Mrs. Mayforth, director of the Jefferson County Department of Employment and Training at The Workplace, knows there’ll be more jobs available at the event at the Ramada Inn than job seekers.

“Nationally, there are nine job openings for every job candidate,” she said.

It’s the first annual job fair that The Workplace has hosted during the past two years because of the pandemic. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Even with worker shortages, she’s encouraged that jobless figures decreased two percentage points in Jefferson and Lewis counties for the month of January, compared to the same month last year.

“There are good jobs with the right training,” she said.

With companies looking for help, 53 companies will cram into the Ramada Inn for the job fair.

“We’re trying to fit as many as we can,” she said.

Worker shortages aren’t only caused by the pandemic, she said. It’s been expected for about a decade as Baby Boomers began retiring and there are not enough people to fill those jobs, she stressed.

Yet some job sectors in the region are looking better, she said.

The region’s leisure and hospitality industry continues to bounce back after restaurants and lodging businesses were forced to close in April 2020 after the pandemic hit.

She’s seen a 28% growth in jobs filled in that sector in Jefferson County from January 2021 to January this year.

And the situation should improve as more of those types of businesses open later this spring for the crucial summer tourism season, she said.

It’s been helped by a number of new restaurants opening in recent months, she said.

Corey Fram, director of the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, said the area’s hospitality industry still hasn’t gotten back all of those jobs from when COVID closed it down in 2020.

According to state Department of Labor figures, about 200 hospitality jobs have not returned from 2019.

And there continues to be a worker shortage in the industry, Mr. Fram said.

“It’s a challenge to find workers,” he said, adding that he thinks that seasonal job seekers — from teens to retirees — should find work this tourism season.

While leisure and hospitality “are doing well now,” the health and education fields continue to be going through rough times, Mrs. Mayforth said.

Many health workers became burnt out during the pandemic, while teachers were also hit hard, she said.

The health field has seen just a 1.5% increase from last year, she said.

The area’s manufacturing base took a hit when New York Air Brake announced last October it was laying off 125 plant workers, Mrs. Mayforth said.

In the end, 99 Air Brake workers will get pink slips. The first of those workers lost their jobs in March, with the remaining being let go next week, she said.

The Workplace has been helping the displaced Air Brake workers find new jobs. A job fair specifically for those Air Brake workers was held last month at the Starbuck Avenue plant.

“I’ve just been focusing on helping them,” Mrs. Mayforth said.

However, local Air Brake officials have confirmed the company will introduce a new product line, with the start of the Disc Brake Localization North American line in 2023.

The new line is getting transferred from NYAB’s parent company plant in Germany.

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