Naseyah McMillan hopes to one day earn an MBA.
But for the last six months, she has been searching for a way to make ends meet.
McMillan was one of 250 job seekers to show up Thursday at a Laurinburg career fair looking for a way forward. Scotland County’s jobless rate is 16.1 percent.
“I would rather (have) something in my field,” said McMillan, who is studying exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, “but right now the way the economy is, a job is a job.”
Some 35 businesses and educational institutions recruited at the fair, among them Richmond Community College, Campbell’s Soup, and Murphy-Brown Farms as well as the Air Force and National Guard. The fair was sponsored by the N.C. Department of Commerce and held at the National Guard Armory.
Representatives from Mountaire Farms poultry processing plant in Lumber Bridge were on site recruiting production staff as well as a handful of more skilled positions.
“In production you have to be able to stand for long hours and also use scissors and a knife and work in the extreme cold and extreme heat,” said Anita Whitted, Mountaire human resources assistant recruiter. “It’s a very fast-paced and demanding environment.”
On average, the Mountaire plants has some 50 jobs open at any given time.
“We have hired veterans, we hire even those with no work experience and give them the opportunity to build a work history with us,” Whitted said.
Willie McLeod of Laurinburg, having given poultry production work a try in the past, was one who has resorted to a string of temporary positions while searching for a solid avenue forward. For two years, McLeod has been unemployed. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1995 and last worked at Smithfield.
“I had some problems with the knife, my hands swelling up and stuff, so I had to let that go,” said McLeod. “After I got through with that, basically I just went from here to there looking. I’ll find a job here, part-time here and part-time there. It’s hard but I keep trying. I’ve applied for some assistance with the veterans, but maybe if I can get certified in something I’ll have a better chance of getting a job.”
Other job seekers, currently employed, simply seek a new challenge.
“I was actually trying to get into the prison system,” said Maurice Drew of Fayetteville. “I’m an electrician and I was actually trying to go overseas with the office of overseas deployment.”
“I’m just trying to find another line of work, I’m working at Meritor right now,” added Charles Bright. “I’m always looking for a way to make more money.” In that, Bright is not alone. Terry Locklear, a distance education coordinator at UNC-Pembroke said that the school’s online programs have seen an increase in enrollment in recent years. Students range from 18 to 60, with a median age of 31.
“We do some of our programs online, and there’s definitely been an increase in people interested in online programs,” Locklear said. “We also do programs off campus at Sandhills Community College and Richmond Community College, and that’s been on the increase also because of people being displaced and out of work. It’s convenient for people that do work because those programs are offered at night.”
Of the nine programs offered through distance education, business and criminal justice are the most popular, Locklear said.
Medical staff were also recruited at the event by Scotia Village and Cape Fear Valley Medical Center among other health care providers.
“We basically hire CNAs and nurses,” said Ravonda John, Scotia Village human resources director. “Sometimes we might have an opening in our kitchen and housekeeping.”
John said that Scotia Village usually has about five positions open, which are generally filled by applicants from Scotland, Richmond, Robeson, and Marlboro counties.
“Because we have part-time in our nursing, we hire more part-time and our part-time take up our full-time positions as they become available,” John said. “Most of them are from this area, however we do have people from South Carolina, particularly nursing if they have an RN or LPN and a multi-state license.”
Recruiters from Campbell’s Soup in Maxton fielded questions from a slew of prospective applicants. But according to training technician Margie Upton, many applicants fail to take or pass the WorkKeys examination required by the plant.
“They need to have those WorkKeys scores before we can even start the application process,” Uptons aid. “Taking the WorkKeys exam seems to be an obstacle for a lot of folks, but we’ve found it to be very helpful in trying to make sure that we get the best fit in our employees.”