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October 8, 2015

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Outlooks run hot, cold at a day at the job fair

Overheard at a gaming-industry job fair, one woman asking another:

“What kind of position are you looking for?”

“Pretty much anything.”

Her sentiment reflected the anxiety born of 14 percent unemployment and several years of a septic economy.

On Tuesday, a day when the lingering high spirits of a successful Consumer Electronics Show were dispelled somewhat by news that gaming revenue declined 6 percent in November, there was a casino job fair at the College of Southern Nevada.

WestStar, the gaming-industry credit union (aided by Recruiting Nevada, a corporate sibling of the Sun), brought together 10 major gaming employers — including MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Boyd Gaming and the Venetian — so that the unemployed, the underemployed or people who just want a change could get information, drop off a resume or otherwise present themselves for inspection. Supposedly, the companies on hand had 3,400 jobs to fill.

I tried to talk to one guy, but he brushed me off: “No, no, no, I’m too tied up looking for a job,” he said — he’d take pretty much anything, I’d guess — before hustling away into the thickening crowd. His fellow job-seekers were young and old, of several races and every apparent social strata, pretty evenly divided between men and women, from what I could see.

“Most people have a pretty good attitude,” said Mona Joseph, WestStar assistant vice president of business development, standing amid the crowd flow. “And they’re dressed pretty well!” She gestured toward a man in line at the Station Casinos booth. “I’d hire him, just because he looks good.”

He did look good, too. Sharp brown suit, dapper hat, pristine grooming. “Larry Owen,” he said. Fifteen years in sales, out of work since February.

If his outfit was upbeat, his expectations weren’t, tempered by tough experience and a pragmatic assessment of his chances of actually landing a job. Like many other well-dressed people I noticed, there was a disconnect between the optimism of his wardrobe and the wariness on his features, the mounting despair unconsciously encoded right into his snappy look.

What’s your level of optimism, Larry?

“Right now, it’s very low,” he said. “I’ve put in a thousand resumes online. I’ve gone to things like this, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people out of work.”

Looked to be the same this time. The fair had opened at 11 — although Joseph said a handful of people were waiting at 8 a.m. — and by 12:30, WestStar President and CEO Rick Schmidt estimated that a thousand people had cycled through. (“That’s three jobs for every person,” one chipper job-fair worker was overheard to say.)

“I’m 54,” Owen said. “I feel that’s a deficit for me in terms of finding availabilities.” Still, here he was, gamely working the tables and hoping for the best, or, at least, pretty much anything. “It’s coming up on a year,” he said. “I need to get back to work.”

Another well-dressed job-seeker, a thin, angular, intense former casino manager we’ll call “Claire” because she doesn’t want her opinions to hamper her employability, was cynical about the claim of 3,400 jobs available.

“I spend a couple of hours a day, every day, going through the websites and applying for every single job. At one casino, I applied for four positions I was more than qualified for. Not a single call.”

Indeed, it’s hard not to wonder how, in a town as hard-hit as this, with so many jobless and the ease of online application, so many jobs could remain unfilled. Were some of the companies merely there to appear supportive, she wondered? But she didn’t blame WestStar for whatever disparity might exist, she added, just the cutthroat nature of the industry.

Yet, Claire keeps at it. “I get up, I put on a suit, I come down here,” she said. She felt she got decent feedback at the Boyd booth, but said she was blown off by Venetian, which, she said, merely referred her to its website.

“The companies are making it impossible to earn a living,” she said, her voice low and firm with anger. “I know people with 25 years of experience who’ve seen their status reduced. They’re now part time, on-call. I’m finding it very disheartening.”

Then she was off, saying something about the Caesars table. I wished her luck.

“The feedback has been positive,” Schmidt told me later. “People are happy to get in front of people who are hiring.”

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