WINCHESTER — Employers and job seekers around the region gathered for a virtual job fair Thursday to help ease the strains put on the community from COVID-19.

It was the first virtual job fair held in the region, sponsored by the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber of Commerce and Virginia Career Works with the help of Dr. Dave Miles and his Dr. Dave Leadership Corp.

Thirteen employers and more than 100 job seekers used Zoom for the job fair, taking questions and working to find the next great fits for their companies in multiple sessions throughout the day. An early session was set aside for youth ages 16-18 and about eight participants joined. Next, three sessions were scattered over three hours Thursday afternoon for adult job seekers.

Employers ranged from Valley Health to 84 Lumber to Thermo Fisher Scientific, with plenty in between to choose from.

“It can be difficult to get a foot in the door of an employer, especially during this time. It was wonderful to see the job seekers have a direct touch, face to face, with employers, and in such a short period of time get to see multiple career options,” said Cynthia Schneider, CEO of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber. “Another successful outcome was the connections and collaborations that came across industries between the employers. This event will play an essential role in our road to recovery in the days to come.”

Job seekers were invited into the Zoom session, given simple instructions and then heard introductions from each of the employers and what they were looking for. Then, the job seekers were able to bounce around to different breakout rooms.

Those attending the job fair weren’t just limited to folks seeking jobs for themselves, though.

Rachel Lombardo, employee relations coordinator at Shenandoah University, was hopping around to find jobs to pass along to SU students.

“I’m seeking out opportunities for our students and looking for companies looking to hire some of our students on as interns or full-time jobs for those May 2020 grads who are entering a crazy work world,” she said.

Others were in the session to look for opportunities for family members who were unable to join.

“I was able to drop in on a few employer rooms and witness some great conversations taking place,” said Ashley Moslak, with Virginia Career Works. “We look forward to the feedback both positive and negative. That is how we set the stage for the next event. We are already in discussion of another event.”

Once initial pleasantries and introductions were made, many job seekers asked about things such as what the work environment looked like and, of course, how COVID-19 was being dealt with.

“Right now, it’s an interesting time,” Lombardo said. “A lot of the employers we’ve been working with have been interested in remote positions, because obviously we don’t know when a normal circumstance will come back in place.”

Employers seemed to enjoy embracing what many of them called the future of job searching.

“It was a positive experience and a learning experience for us all. I have a feeling that virtual job fairs are definitely going to be a wave of future,” said Shelley Largent, business development manager with Qualified Staffing. “I’m elated that Qualified Staffing was on the ground floor of the valley’s first virtual job fair. Qualified Staffing is looking forward to working with and attending all future virtual job fairs.”

“Several of our managers remarked that this is the future of job placement, and it was easy to see why,” said Earnie Bliss, operations head for Berry Global. “This process completely eliminated the need to travel while still allowing personal communication. We were able to have beneficial conversations with several people, and are already evaluating the candidates we spoke to. Great job all around, and we can’t wait to see how this process will evolve.”

Those involved with the month of planning said they were appreciative of the work that everyone put in to make it a successful event, including staff from sponsors, businesses and those who signed up to participate.

“Dr. Dave hosted a seamless event that resulted in all of the employers in attendance responding that they would do it again. I feel that in itself is a great measure of success,” Moslak said. “I encourage businesses to connect with myself and the Business Services Team at Virginia Career Works to find out what we can do for you. Lastly, I want to stress the value of businesses being linked in to their Chamber of Commerce and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). I can personally attest to this having attended virtual meetings with both organizations. This event surpassed my expectations and I feel proud to have worked on this great effort.”

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com

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