Jacqueline Hernandez is a single mom of four, and she needs a job. The problem is she didn’t graduate high school or get a GED. On top of that, her children are all under 8 years old, making her schedule tough to work with.
This was Hernandez’s situation as she walked into a youth job fair at Journey House, but she walked out with more prospects than she has had in a while.
“This is a really good opportunity because it gave me different options that I didn’t know were out there,” Hernandez said.
The fair was sponsored by the City of Milwaukee, Pathfinders, Journey House and SaintA. The Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) conceived the fair as an event for Milwaukee’s youth.
“Our main thing is that we really wanted to somehow get to what they call ‘opportunity youth.’ They’re out of school and out of work. It was like, ‘How do we get these youth off the streets? What is it that they need to be doing something very positive in life?’” said Jameelah A. Love, a peer mentor at SaintA and a member of the fair planning committee.
The organizations conducted a survey of 17- to 25-year-olds to find out what they needed most. The survey revealed what young people need to reach stability and independence.
“Young people experience a lot of different barriers, but the main two are always employment and housing, and they tie into each other,” Love said. She said most of the time, you cannot have one without the other.
Love works in the Youth Transitioning to Adulthood Program at SaintA, which she took part in when she graduated out of foster care. She said it is amazing to help youths through events such as the job fair, because they are on the same path she was, and she understands their struggles.
Love said job fairs catered to young people are valuable because employers go into the event understanding that they will find job hunters who are young and possibly inexperienced.
“(Employers) come because they want to hire young people, and when they come here, they come understanding who their audience is,” Love said. “When a young person comes up to them, and he’s 19 but he’s never had a job before, they expected that and they’re willing to work with that.”
Hernandez said she met employers at the fair who would train her and help her get a GED.
Hernandez is the breadwinner for her children, and has no family or friends supporting her. She said she is just looking for something that brings money home.
“I’m looking for a job that has good pay, something that is worth me leaving my kids so that I can provide for them. I don’t want to waste my time,” Hernandez said. “My kids are my world. If I could work from home, I would. Any mom would want that.”
Hernandez said her next steps are to submit her applications for jobs she learned about at the fair and hope for the best.
The job fair was preceded by a two-hour skills building workshop. The skills included resume writing, interviewing and elevator pitches, which are 30-second introductions to employers.
“We did what we could to make sure that not only were we connecting youth to the jobs but also that we were giving them the skills that they needed when they got face-to-face with the employers,” Love said.
To tackle the housing portion of the survey responses, a DNS inspector conducted tenant training sessions during the job fair.
“It’s everything you need to know about being a successful tenant in a home, from paying your rent on time to your rights as a tenant,” Love said.
There were more than 40 different employers at the fair, including Qdoba, Walmart and Aurora Health Care.
“It was a busy fair. There were over 100 people here,” said Leianna Rau, a talent acquisition coordinator at FedEx. “It was very successful on our part. I’m looking forward to meeting and following up with these candidates.”
Rau said her table was successful in part because there are entry-level positions at FedEx that suit young people who may be looking for their first jobs.
Jorge Garcia and Jackie Madrigal, senior high school students at Escuela Verde, attended the fair at the suggestion of their advisor.
Garcia said the job fair was helpful because it exposed students to various opportunities. He wants to be an electrician, and while at the fair he discovered that Milwaukee Area Technical College offers a program for the trade.
Madrigal has been looking for a job for a while, and she liked that the fair was geared to young people.
“Sometimes they don’t communicate what age you have to be to apply for a job, but here they tell you, and I actually have a lot of opportunities,” Madrigal said.