HOBART — Today’s most successful companies understand the business value of a diverse workforce, creating an environment where employees can bring their authentic selves to work every day.

For people looking for employment with companies that find strength from people of different races, genders, sexual orientation and more, the 10th Annual Diversity Career Fair & Business Symposium held Thursday at Avalon Manor was the place to be.

Hosted by The Times Media Co., The Times’ IN BusINess magazine and Monster.com, about 300 people stopped by throughout the day to pitch their skills and experience to prospective employers from across Northwest Indiana and learn about in-demand careers.

The day kicked off with the business symposium where Bridget Harrison, clinical director of innovations for Learning PC in Merrillville, presented “Autism in the Workplace: Removing Barriers, Making Opportunities.” Guest speaker Aiden Powell, the LGBTQ competency educator from Purdue University, discussed strategies for improving inclusion among hiring managers.

For attendees like Chastity Jackson of Merrillville, the current employment landscape is largely devoid of discriminatory practices that in a different era may have limited her opportunities. She busied herself speaking with company representatives offering administrative or teaching positions.

“In most cases, the higher your level of education the more chance you have of getting the position,” Jackson said.

Portage’s Eleshia Cheek took aim at finding a job in a field that is inherently diverse — social work.

“It’s always better when you make face-to-face contact,” she said.

A historically diverse employer, the Indiana National Guard had a booth at the career fair. Already a National Guardsman, Jordan Adams ,of Griffith,  only stopped by the booth to say hello. He was intent on making connections with companies to supplement to his part-time role with the National Guard.

“Of all the career fairs I’ve been to, this is one of the best,” he said. “I’m looking for employment in maintenance or construction.”

Although traditionally male-dominated, the railroad industry was represented by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore commuter and freight train service.

Bjarne R. Henderson, NICTD’s director of human resources and labor relations, said more and more women are seeking careers in the railroad industry, and noticed a fair amount of inquiries from women throughout the day. He was watching out for people with experience as a signal engineer, which will be in demand for the railroad’s upcoming double tracking and West Lake Corridor projects.

“We’re hiring to replace a current generation of employees who are retiring,” Henderson said. “The turnover began five years ago, and we expect will continue for the next five.”

Rebecca Martinez, human resources director for Franciscan Health, regards a diverse workforce as especially important in the healthcare industry.

“We have a mission and values of helping anyone, and that extends to our workforce,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of diversity come through the door today. Our region is a melting pot of diversity, and our organization should reflect that.”

That concept extends to one of the region’s largest employers, NIPSCO and NiSource.

“It’s a very diverse group today and one that’s very eager to gain employment,” said Valparaiso’s Denise Conlon, manager of billing and payments for NiSource. “We’re seeing many qualified applicants.”

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