By David N. Krough, TJJD Communications

JobFair 051624job4The mock job fair may have been just a rehearsal, but the lessons for some Gainesville State School students were real-life last Wednesday.

The relatively new program, organized with help from Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, is building a bridge between the school and the local business community. Several business owners, hiring managers and supervisors came out to talk with 23 Gainesville students.

For the youth, this event helped them understand what will be expected when they seek employment.

“The objective of it is for them to learn interviewing skills and how to look for, (and) how to interview for a job and then how to present themselves,” Gainesville State School Superintendent Darryl Anderson said.

The tables were spread out in the gym to represent an actual job fair, with the one-on-one conversations between the would-be prospective hires and their interviewers divided into morning and afternoon sessions.

All of the students selected for the event had obtained certifications from school. Interviewers asked about their backgrounds and experience, focusing on using professional language and appropriate grammar. A lot of the feedback they received was about improving communication, eye contact, presenting a friendly face and attitude.

Among the interviewers were: Circuit Breaker Sales Safety and Facility Coordinator Mike Briley, Hector Flores with Modern Woodman Fraternal Financial, David West from Glenn Polk Auto Plex City of Gainesville, Interim Parks and Rec Director Kevin Gann, Scott Dougherty and Janna Cunningham from Bezner Insurance and Tony Avila from Avila Art Photography.

“They did this totally (for) free and because they wanted to help these kids,” Anderson said. “In the major metropolitan areas, who says that if we got a kid that's getting out, going back to Dallas, that we couldn't have a real job for maybe, 10 employers from that area come down? And if they are interested in this kid, maybe they could hook him up with a job when they get out. So that's the long-term goal of this.”

This was the second year for the program in Gainesville, which is planned annually. The criteria to participate requires students to be 18 and have six months or less before release and be of good academic and behavioral standing.

Before the students are ready to interview, staff and teachers at Gainesville help the students to create resumes with the important points, such as “talking up their skills and accomplishments,” student T.S. recalled.

“What better way to … teach them job skills, how to interview? Because eventually, even though most jobs online that you (are) going to apply for - at some point, you’ve got to meet somebody in person, you’ve got to know how to present yourself, how to conduct an interview,” Anderson explained.

JobFair 051624job6The employers go over a lot of the simple things the youth should know. “Don't take your cell phone, if you do take it, you know, have it turned off, wear a shirt and a tie, sit up straight, look them in the eye, shake their hand . . . know how to answer questions in a professional way. We wanted those kids to learn all that,” Anderson said.

Janna Cunningham, the executive assistant with Bezner Insurance in Lindsay, called the event a “very positive experience.”

In addition to just the interview itself, Cunningham said she and the others helped provide feedback and guidance on ways the mock interviewees could use body language in a more welcoming and confident manner; sitting up straight, hands clasped in front with arms braced casually instead of crossed, providing proper handshakes and making eye contact.

“When some of them first sat down with me, their body language came off as protective or defensive not in a negative way but more like they were braced for judgment or guarding their true feelings and emotions,” she said.

“By the time they were leaving the event, you could see they had more prideful, welcoming, positive demeanors,” she said. “I could tell that their confidence levels boosted as they went through each interview so that by the time the last interview would occur, they were sitting up straighter, giving a firmer handshake, answering questions and conversing with more ease.”

“With today's job market, so many positions expect large amounts of experience or certifications and licenses - the kids who will leave with not only their diplomas and GED's but also various certificates will have a small leg up, which will be another help to them to start in the right direction,” Cunningham said.

Mike Briley with Circuit Breaker Sales said all the young men he spoke with were very eager for the input, namely how they introduced themselves to the interviewer, speaking up and being clear when speaking.

Briley explained how he could relate to the potential jobseekers from his own life experiences.

JobCoaching 3sml“After letting them know where I came from and that I could very well have been where they are today -had the laws been as harsh in my day as they are now,” Briley said. “I think letting them know that I was a dropout of school in the 9th grade sort of put them at ease with me. I explained that I attended the ‘school of hard knocks’ growing up and had to do it all on my own, and where I have been, all I have done and where I am today … they could relate to me.”

Briley said after listening in on some other interviews and visiting with a couple of the youth, he realized their biggest issue needing improvement was confidence.

“I told them all, ‘you had the confidence to walk over and talk with me, right? Then you have the confidence to sit and talk with any stranger, relax and tell the truth,’” he said.

“Learn to be more confident, sell yourself,” was the takeaway student M.S. said of his session.

He and others told TJJD Volunteer Coordinator Kevin Hill, who accompanied the youth to the event, that the mock interviews were eye-opening. They reported that they didn’t realize that they should have a longterm plan in mind that they could talk about and that they needed to take care to answer the specific question that interviewers asked.

The youth also told Hill that they now know that they need to practice talking up their skills and accomplishments, which can be hard for anyone.

JobFair 051624job8Most all of the youth Briley spoke with told him they wanted a better life after they leave Gainesville. The biggest challenge, he noted, was that most have to return to where they came from because of a lack of money and no other place to go.

“They must change their old friends and sometimes, even relatives and may need to move completely away to start over,” Briley said.

“(The interviewers) were very impressed with some of our kids,” Anderson said – noting that a few of the interviewers even said had they been actual interviews, they would have hired on the spot.

Anderson added that he hopes that the program could eventually expand into actual job fairs in cities around the state.

“If we could get this going at the other (TJJD) facilities, it gets the community involved in the rehabilitation process. That's our goal right there . . .. And a part of the reentry process is reintegrating (the youth) back to society.”

“You could have actual job fairs inside of here where employees could come in that are in need of workers that understand, ‘Hey, look, I'm willing to give this person a second chance,” Anderson said. “Because you have a lot of employers out there that know that people are going to make mistakes. And this is still an untapped workforce here.”

For the next mock job fair, Anderson said they plan to incorporate a wardrobe plan as well, with shirts and ties provided from the school’s clothes closet.

Briley said he would have given at least three of the youth he spoke with actual interviews and expressed interest in taking part in the program again.

“Anything I can do to help these young men get back out into society and make a positive impact I am all in.”