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Southern Union job fair draws teens, others seeking career changes
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Southern Union job fair draws teens, others seeking career changes

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Auburn and Opelika hotels and restaurants need help.

Over two dozen of them set up at the Hospitality Job Fair at Southern Union State Community College Tuesday, all hoping to staff up as they recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Job seekers were outnumbered by potential employers at several times during the day, but there were people keen for jobs.

Local hotels and restaurants set up at Southern Union State Community College Tuesday for a Hospitality Job Fair. Rita Hazel and Mark Barton from Stay Plus of Auburn discussed recent problems with recruiting new staff as the area emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Jobseeker Addam Knudsen has done call center and customer service work, but he was hoping to find a job bartending or waiting tables Tuesday.

Jason Cardwell worked in healthcare before COVID-19 hit the area in March 2020. He gave up his job over fear of being exposed to the coronavirus and has been living off his savings ever since.

“After the whole COVID thing, I decided that my workplace was unsafe, so I spent the last several months using all the time to think,” said Cardwell, who lives in Opelika. “So I’m looking to do some new things. This job fair was available, so I thought I would like to go out and kind of see the landscape.”

Cameron and Conner Burkett were there looking for summer work. The 16-year-old twins both study construction engineering at Auburn High School, but they haven’t decided on what careers they will pursue long term. Their mission Tuesday was simply to get jobs and make a bit of money.

“Since there aren’t that many people working right now, I’ve got the opportunity to choose right now,” said Cameron.

“I agree with him, but I’m not really into the kind of jobs they have here,” said Conner. “But I’ll take what I can get.”

Linda Harris works at Ingles Supermarket in Hogansville, Georgia. She drove in from Lanett in search of something new.

“If I can drive 15 minutes to work, as opposed to 35 or 40 minutes, that’s me,” Harris said.

Harris loves her current job, despite working only part-time and not having any benefits. Her co-workers weren’t as fond of the work, apparently, after COVID-19 hit and the federal government enhanced unemployment benefits.

“A lot of people just stopped wanting to come to work. When you make a nice incentive like that, nobody is going to choose work,” Harris said. “But my incentive is security; the government can pull that [unemployment] back at any minute … it’s the government and nothing is free.”

Auburn’s Stay Plus Hotel on South College Street was hiring for all positions. Manager Mark Barton acknowledged that restaffing has been tricky since the coronavirus began to subside. It has forced him, as well as other operators on hand Tuesday, to adjust the pay and benefits he offers his employees.

“If you drive down South College Street and look at every service business, they’re having problems,” Barton said. “With the unemployment, it’s not worth it [to work]. It may not be more money, but it’s still not worth it to work.”

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