Many employers in the Mother Lode say the perception that the rural area is lacking job opportunities doesn’t match up with the reality on the ground.
In fact, there are plenty of openings at a variety of businesses and government agencies throughout the area as evidenced by the number of those looking to fill positions at The Union Democrat Job Fair held Thursday afternoon at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora.
“We have a board at our center that’s about 6 feet by 4 feet and almost always filled with jobs,” said Lisa Edwards, a career counselor for Mother Lode Job Training, who was at the event to assist job seekers and raise awareness about their services.
The event was the third job fair the newspaper has hosted over the past year. The first one last February drew more than 150 job seekers, while the second one in October brought in more than 170.
Peggy Pietrowicz, advertising manager for The Union Democrat, said she anticipated even more would come through the Sierra Building at the fairgrounds Thursday than the previous two events judging by the turnout at about 3 p.m.
The event went from 2 to 6 p.m.
“If people are looking for a job, they’re going to come here,” she said. “There are a lot of good employers here.”
Tuolumne County’s unemployment rate in December at 6 percent was one percentage point higher than the state’s overall, according to the latest numbers available from the California Employment Development Department.
Pietrowicz said she believes there isn’t so much a lack of jobs in the county, but a lack of qualified people to fill those positions and places to house them. She noted that while advertising revenue from housing has declined significantly, revenue from ads for job openings has increased and taken its place.
Developers, realtors and business leaders have long called for solutions to the county’s shortage of rentals and affordable housing for working-class families.
A group of them gave a presentation to the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors in February 2016 that showed how the number of new homes built in the county has nearly fallen off a cliff over the past two decades, from 6,420 during the 1990s to about 280 between 2010 and 2016.
Tara Stetz, group sales director for Evergreen and Rush Creek lodges near Yosemite National Park, was manning a booth at the fair seeking candidates for several management and hospitality positions.
Stetz too said that housing is a big issue when it comes to filling positions at the lodges. She said they’re hoping to hire more local residents because their on-site housing can only accommodate about 60 percent of the total staff.
“Last year, we got three locals solely from this job fair and we’d always love to hire more,” Stetz said.
Another problem some recruiters cited is raising awareness about opportunities that people may not associate with the employer’s particular field.
About 1,450 people work for the county’s largest private employer, Adventist Health, which operates Sonora Regional Medical Center on Greenley Road. They were at the fair looking for candidates to help fill about 80 positions, mostly in nursing, but also some in housekeeping, clerical and other jobs that don’t require a degree from medical school.
“Sometimes people aren’t aware of positions at the hospital that don’t require certifications,” said Mattie Loeschner, a talent advisor for Adventist Health. “We’ve been using Facebook more to help reach out and advertise those positions.”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which had a booth at the event, faces similar difficulties in raising awareness about positions that aren’t prison guards.
Alan Nunnelee, a correctional officer at Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown, said the department has jobs for people with all sorts of different skills and qualifications, including accounting, information technology, culinary and electrical.
“A lot of people think they don’t want to work at a prison, but we’ve got a lot of jobs other than being a correctional officer,” Nunnelee said. “If you’re a mechanic, for example, you could work in the auto body vocation department teaching inmates how to work on vehicles.”
Those who were at the fair talking to recruiters included people who were unemployed, new to the area, and other looking for something that better suits their skillset.
Jessica Powell, 43, of Sonora, currently has a job assisting people who have dementia, but she previously worked as dental assistant while living in Washington. Upon moving to California, she found most clinics weren’t hiring unregistered assistants.
However, Powell discovered at the fair that the CDCR hires both registered and unregistered dental assistants.
“I remember when I was 18 to 22, I could get a job anywhere that was hiring pretty much on the spot,” she said. “It’s a lot more difficult now.”
Gavin Boule, 31, of Sonora, was at the fair looking for a job after recently moving to the county from Missouri to be near his wife’s family.
Boule said finding a job in the area hasn’t been easy for him up to this point. He’s received a couple of call backs and interviews from places, but no offers.
A former landscaper, Boule said he was interested in applying for a laborer job at Sierra Pacific Industries after speaking to a representative at the fair.
“They offer benefits and promote within,” he said. “Landscaping doesn’t offer any types of benefits.”
Other job fair participants included Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency’s Head Start program, Avalon Care Center, Black Oak Casino Resort, Chance4Change, Chicken Ranch Casino, Columbia College Apprenticeship Initiative, Sierra Mountain Construction Inc., Tuolumne County Human Services, Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools, Greater Valley Conservation Corps, WATCH Resources, and Wyndham Vacation Ownership.