Job Training Fair Capitalizes on Popular Annual Festival, Serves Residents and Employers Throughout Region

Charleston takes advantage of the drawing power of its annual Sternwheel Regatta Festival by presenting a job training fair at the same time. The focus is on job training available to low income residents and others through local governments, public and private agencies and employers throughout the region.

The City of Charleston has found a way to use a popular annual cultural and entertainment event to acquaint large numbers of low-income and other job-seekers in the region with the wide range of job training and on-the-job training opportunities available to them.

In 1994, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development launched a Section 3 Technical Assistance Initiative in 40 sites across the nation. Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act requires that economic opportunities generated by HUD financial assistance shall, to the extent feasible, be given to low income and very low income persons, particularly those who are recipients of government assistance for housing, and to businesses that provide economic opportunities for those persons.

Charleston was one of the cities chosen to test whether a coordinated and concerted effort of federal, state and local governments, labor organizations, social service agencies and job training agencies could increase job training and employment opportunities for low income area residents, and increase contracting opportunities for Section 3 businesses, all with no additional outlay of HUD funds. Charleston responded with a Section 3 Task Force, its members drawn from city and county governments and a wide range of public and private organizations in the region.

1996 Job Training Fair – In 1996, Charleston’s Section 3 Task Force decided to take advantage of the drawing power of the annual Charleston Sternwheel Regatta Festival by presenting a Job Training Fair at the same time. The Regatta, begun in 1970, is a week-long celebration of the City’s river heritage which includes concerts, sporting events, boat races and dozens of other events. It is an attraction that each year draws 150,000 people from across the region.

Three weeks prior to the first Job Training Fair – held August 28, 1996 at the Charleston Civic Center – an aggressive public relations and promotional effort was launched: Public service announcements describing the fair were aired on the bulletin boards of three area cable television stations and news articles appeared in neighborhood newspapers. Advocacy groups and social service agencies were encouraged to include articles in the newsletters sent to their constituents. The Director of Housing for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Charleston mailed information to each of the assisted projects in the greater Charleston area, and project managers were asked to notify each of their residents and staff of the fair; Charleston’s Housing Department notified each of its nearly 1,600 public housing residents. Task Force members distributed fliers to grocery and drug stores, restaurants and other retail establishments, and the fair was listed as an official activity of the Charleston Regatta Festival in all the event’s publications. The day before the fair, Task Force members and HUD officials appeared on the talk radio program with the largest listening audience in the area; the same day, helium-filled balloons printed with information on the fair were distributed to children in the downtown area.

On the day of the fair, representatives of 16 nonprofit groups, 10 government agencies (local, state and federal) and three private companies were at tables in the Civic Center, providing information on their job training and employment opportunities. Contacts were made with 425 area residents, and 341 adults ultimately received job training. Officials in Charleston point with pride to many individual success stories, including a long-time welfare recipient who attended the fair and was hired on the spot by a telemarketing company for a job that has kept her off of public assistance, and two residents of a men’s homeless shelter who were hired and trained by a local agency and who are now self-supporting and living in unsubsidized housing.

1997 Job Training Fair – The Second Annual Job Training Fair was held August 27, 1997 – again during the Regatta Festival, again at the Charleston Civic Center, and again following an aggressive promotion campaign. This second fair offered a new feature: an opening panel discussion which addressed the question, "Do you have the skills and characteristics today’s employers are seeking?" On the panel were representatives of some of the largest and most attractive employers in the Charleston area: a human resources specialist with Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia; a human resources training coordinator with South Charleston Stamping and Manufacturing, an auto parts producer; and a human resources supervisor with NGK Spark Plug Manufacturing, USA. Also on the panel was a member of Working Smart Business Consultants who described proper attire for job interviews and ways to develop an appropriate wardrobe for work at little cost.

For the second fair, information on job training programs – most of which are available to low income persons at no cost – was provided by 33 public and private organizations, a few more than the previous year. Training opportunities covered a wide range of job skills, among them: welding, bookkeeping, computer technology and repair, carpentry, masonry, general contracting, office and clerical support, heavy equipment operation and truck driving. Attendees in 1997 totaled 560, many more than the previous year. Officials are looking ahead to another successful fair in 1998.

Sponsors of the Job Training Fairs are also members of the Section 3 Task Force; they include the City of Charleston, HUD, the Charleston Public Housing Authority, Multi-Cap, Inc. (the Community Action Program agency), Braley and Thompson (a private social services provider), Kanawha County Schools, the Private Industry Council of Kanawha County, Career Connections (a private job preparation service), the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the Appalachian Center for Independent Living (serving persons with disabilities), and BIDCO (the City’s economic development arm).

In June 1997, the overall success of Charleston’s Section 3 Task Force, and the success of the Job Training Fair in particular, yielded one of HUD’s first John J. Gunther Awards for Blue Ribbon Practices in Community Development."The Charleston Job Training Fair highlights one of the finest characteristics of our city: the willingness of government, the business community and social service agencies to work together to benefit the people of the region," says Charleston Mayor G. Kemp Melton. "My administration has worked hard on this project and others that help give people – at no cost – the tools they need to better themselves."

Contact: Carolyn Karr Charnock, Director of Communications, Office of the Mayor, (304) 348-8174