challenge jobfairRotary volunteer Bob Riter conducts a mock interview with Challenge participant Danya S. (far right) and Job Developer Carlene Fields (Photo/Evan D. Williams)

On March 30, Challenge Workforce Solutions held its annual Reverse Job Fair at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Ithaca. Challenge is a local non-profit in its fiftieth year of creating pathways to employment for individuals with disabilities and other barriers. This was the third event of its kind and the first to include attendees from partnering organizations.

The fair was spearheaded by Jennifer Northrop, Challenge's Business Outreach Coordinator. She explains, "Most of the invitees are in active job development at Challenge, and this is an expected part of their job-seeking process. This year, we also invited several candidates from the Women's Opportunity Center, the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and Significant Elements, so they could get the chance to meet with recruiters as well."

Participating employers included Wegmans, Hilton Garden Inn, Challenge Contract Staffing, Ithaca Bakery, Cornell Child Care Center/Bright Horizons, Longview, Cargill, the City of Ithaca, and Racker Centers.

The consensus among these recruiters was that the event was a welcome opportunity to converse in depth with a small but promising pool of candidates. Diane Makovitch, recruiter for the Wegmans stores in Ithaca and Corning, was a first-time tabler and said she got "more of a chance to talk one-on-one than you do at a typical job fair. It's also a great opportunity to meet more job developers from Challenge, who we work with throughout the year."

Edgar J. Johnson, Staffing Consultant at Cornell University, returned for the second year. "In terms of the candidates that stopped by my table," he said, "the quality is there. I'm always impressed with the people that Challenge works with. Last year we made a hire from this event, and this year I'm pretty sure we will hire one or two more."

Also present were representatives of several community resources, including Jackie Mouillesseaux-Grube, Workforce Development Specialist for Tompkins Workforce New York. Says Northrop, "Jackie is fantastic at helping people think of different routes to take and figure out how to pursue whatever additional education or training they need."

Bob Riter of Ithaca Sunrise Rotary was also on hand to conduct mock interviews with candidates before they met with the recruiters. According to Northrop, "this was good preparation for folks who haven't interviewed in a long time, or ever."

Danya S. was among the Challenge candidates who met with Riter and then with several of the employers. "This is pretty cool!" she remarked. "I like food packaging, like I was doing before, but I want to learn some new things on top of that. This is a good way to meet different employers and maybe get some different skills."

Jolene M., one of the job seekers affiliated with Women's Opportunity Center, said that she was able to connect with two or three recruiters of interest and that "one in particular was very informative and helpful in terms of my needs. I hope that Challenge will keep running this fair and inviting clients from other organizations."