MERRILLVILLE| Valparaiso resident Michael Rider worked for the fire protection equipment company McDaniel Fire Systems for 33 years until the company suddenly shut down in October.
For the last eight months, he's been sending out resumes, filling out applications and learning new computer skills at WorkOne. He's had five job interviews, and the companies always say they will call him back either way, but they never do.
Rider was one of hundreds of job seekers who flocked to Avalon Manor in Merrillville on Wednesday for The Times Media Co.'s sixth annual Diversity Job Fair and Business Symposium. More than 675 job seekers were able to pass their resumes to major employers such as ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel, while business leaders and human resource professionals learned how to handle diversity in the workplace.
"This event is what's great about the region," said Times Media Co. Porter County General Manager Deb Anselm. "It was a lot of companies and leaders of those companies coming together to further the discussion of where we're at and how we move forward. It raised awareness about how we embrace diversity in our organizations, and make them welcoming, inclusionary places."
Officials from more than 30 companies took part in the symposium, which included a presentation on how to engage different generations of employees at the workplace and a panel discussion on diversity-related issues, such as the inclusion of more woman and minorities in top management positions and respect for cultural differences. Panelist Vanessa Allen from the Urban League told the audience about how her organization strives to make people feel welcome, regardless of their age or socioeconomic status.
"When you come to the Urban League looking for a job or employment, it doesn't matter if you're black, white, purple or green," she said. "You still have the same need, and it doesn't matter who you are. It matters that we're welcoming to you when you come into the office."
After the symposium, job seekers had a chance to meet with more than 25 companies that are currently hiring.
Munster-based Citizens Financial Bank was looking to fill about 10 positions, mostly part-time tellers. The bank usually has openings at its 20 locations in Northwest Indiana and Illinois, and has had past success filling positions with candidates from the Times job fair.
"The turnout is always bigger than some of the other job fairs we do," recruiter Lisa Scheichert said. "It's well-publicized, and the publicity helps get the word out to the community. In terms of the number and quality of candidates we see, we usually are able to find some people from this fair."
Kouts resident Nathan Stines said he would be happy to get a job at the bank or any other company that would be willing to hire him. The Afghanistan war veteran, who left the U.S. Army in 2010, came to the fair with a folder stuffed with more than 30 copies of his resume, which he handed out at each booth in the hope of getting his name out.
Stines had been working as a machine operator, making soundproofing for car parts, until his employer started using a new type of glue. He was allergic to it, and had to leave that job in February.
Since then, he's emailed hundreds of resumes, and called and visited several employers.
"I've had job interviews, but it's been tough," he said. "Companies say they like veterans, but then they pass you up for somebody else."
Rider came to the fair in the hope of finding a truck driving or production job. He'd worked at McDaniel Fire Systems since 1977 and misses work. He especially misses the camaraderie he used to enjoy with his colleagues on the shop floor.
He's been getting job training on electronics and computers, and going to events like the job fair whenever he hears that companies are hiring.
"I'm trying," he said. "I'm trying. It's been hard for me. Nobody really thought the place was going to close down."