Local leaders battle unemployment hikes through career fair

By WEEK Reporter

March 28, 2014 Updated Mar 28, 2014 at 10:11 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Local leaders are working to fight recent unemployment hikes in the Peoria area. Though job openings exist area leaders say there are many barriers keeping people from snagging them. A local career fair focused on making jobs accessible to everyone.

Since last February Peoria unemployment is up a tenth of a point at 10.1%--meaning a loss of 3,300 jobs.

That number among other factors sparked Central Illinois Goodwill to partner with the Illinois Department of Employment Security and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos to host a career fair.

More than 60 organizations set up shop at Peoria High School and they are all hiring.

"We have manufacturing companies, schools, constuction companies, Avon... There's literally something for everyone," said Goodwill Coordinator Jamie Newell.

The fair opened an hour early just for veterans. Brian Wood--who was hiring Friday--served as a US Army Sargent in Afghanistan.

"I know exactly what it feels like to be in their shoes," said Wood.

He had already hired eight veterans.

"You used to be in a platoon. You have a sense of command, a sense of purpose, and you come back to America and everyone says, 'Welcome back, what are you going to do?' and I say 'I don't know because I can't even get a job.' '" said Wood.

For US Army veteran Thomas Douglas, Friday was successful.

"I filled out about five applications, about 10 online applications, so O feel it's a good day, and I'm optimistic about getting a job after this," said Douglas.

Douglas is part of the Goodwill Veterans Program that aims to build veterans' work skills and help them find employment--all for free.

"It makes me feel great," said Douglas. "It makes me feel that I just want to keep going knowing someone's there walking right with you."

However veterans are not the only ones struggling to find work--minorities and women are too.

"Statistically speaking they struggle the most in finding jobs," said Newell.

"It was tough. I had to help my mom, and I had to help myself as well," said Peoria resident Jessica Neely. "Finding a job is mandatory for me or I'll be living on the streets."

However there are multiple resources for low-income residents struggling to find work.

"We offer 100% free education and vocational training," said Job Corps representative Kamara Taylor.

There are multiple grants funded by the Illinois Department of Labor that educate and train low-income workers for free---making work accessible to those from all types of socio-economic backgrounds.

"It decreases the crime rate and keeps the community motivated," said Taylor.

"You have to keep striving," said Neely. "If you take 'no' for an answer you have no future. I'm ready to have my future."

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