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Job Fair Highlights Difficulties of Current Climate

The Union Democrat ·7 Dec 2021 ·A1 ·By GUY MCCARTHY The Union Democrat

Tuolumne County employers shared some of the challenges they are facing in the current labor market while seeking potential recruits at a job fair hosted Friday afternoon at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora.

There were 29 employers seeking to fill as many 150 jobs, and more than 95 job seekers attended the event, according to Dave Thoeny, executive director with Mother Lode Job Training and the Central Sierra Economic Development District, which helped promote and run the event.

The event was sponsored by the nonprofit Mariposa Amador Calaveras Tuolumne (MACT)Health Board and Blue Mountain Minerals.

John Dunlap, a facilities manager with the nonprofit MACT Health Board was among representatives at the event for several hiring nonprofits, agencies and businesses who said the cur-rent labor market in Tuolumne County is challenging.

“We took at least eight applications from prospective hires today,” Dunlap said outside the fairgrounds’ Manzanita Building, where the job fair was staged.

The MACT Health Board has opened one new clinic in Ione in the past year, and the nonprofits building another one now in Mariposa, Dunlap said, so MACT has job openings.

Asked whether MACT has struggled to retain employees and fill job openings over the past year-and-a-half of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunlap’s response was, “Oh God, yes.”

“Between the relief checks and increased unemployment benefits and the COVID vaccination mandates, we actually lost quite a few people,” he said. “Between five and 10 at least, because they didn’t want to get vaccinated.”

Betsy Coe, of the Tuolumne County Behavioral Health Department, was also among prospective employers Friday and said the agency had jobs ranging from entry

level positions to jobs with master’s degree level education requirements.

Openings the agency had online Monday included behavioral health worker, for which an associate’s degree in psychology, social work, or counseling could count as two years of experience; behavioral health clinician jobs that could pay $40,000 to $70,000 a year; and behavioral health program supervisor, which can pay $53,000 to $93,000 a year.

“It’s been a real challenge to recruit and retain staff ,” Coe said. “Job descriptions have changed, and with the increase in remote work, it’s been a combination of things. It’s been hard to find folks because they’re worried about their health and entering the job force.”

Megan Ochoa and Steve Kieffer came to recruit applicants for the Greater Valley Conservation Corps and San Joaquin County Office of Education. Ochoa and Kieffer said they talked with about 20 individuals Friday at the Mother Lode job fair.

The Greater Valley Conservation Corps has openings for 18- to 26-year-olds working in forestry, Kieffer said.

“About 20 people here today seemed like a good fit for either our apprenticeship program or hiring to the Conservation Corps,” said Ochoa, an apprenticeship specialist based in Sonora. “The apprenticeship program starts in February.”

Jolynn Miller and Vera M. Bullard with the University of California Cooperative Extension’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources were seeking applicants Friday for jobs that include 4-H community education specialists in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, with a pay range from $17.82 an hour to $25.48 an hour.

Lindsay Macon, James Hanson, Kelly Smith, Jennifer Morrison and Connie Perreira, with Mother Lode Job Training, helped introduce prospective job seekers with prospective employers at the fair.

At least one job seeker got hired at the job fair Friday, though he declined to be interviewed.

Job seeker Shane Stickney, 24, a resident of the Twain Harte area, said he is currently between jobs and, though he was not hired Friday, he was pleased to meet at least seven prospective employers at the job fair.

Stickney said he moved to Tuolumne County about three years ago to stay with a friend out of necessity. He initially found a job within six weeks, working the front desk at Black Oak Casino. His most recent job was working at Twain Harte Pharmacy.

“I talked to people representing probably 15 different businesses and entities and agencies today,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised at how many opportunities are here for people with limited education. I will probably do at least seven applications.”

Thoeny said he had no official data from employers yet when asked how many of the nearly 100 job seekers were hired, but Mother Lode Job Training’s track record at previous events so far this year showed about 60% in attendance typically got an offer.

“Employers were excited at the opportunity to reach out to other agencies and to reach interested job-seekers,” Thoeny said. “Job seekers at the event were excited about the multitude of available positions and the ability to apply at the application stations as well as the ability to deliver resumes to employers.”

Transportation, child care and housing were three key barriers in a rural employment market that Thoeny cited when he was asked about the biggest challenges currently facing jobseekers.

“These barriers are combined with the lingering effects of COVID that include fear of infection for the job-seeker and family members, and obligations of job-seekers to care for infected family members,” he said.

Thoeny said one of the biggest challenges facing employers in the area now is finding skilled workers in their respective industries, as well as a shortage of available workers in general and wage inflation.

The next Mother Lode Job Training job fair has not been fixed on calendars yet, but it will likely be in summer 2022, Thoeny said.

Thoeny urged jobseekers to follow Mother Lode Job Training on social media platforms including Facebook, and he urged business owners to reach out to Mother Lode Job Training

To learn more about business services and to be placed on the agency’s job fair interest list.

For more information about assistance available for workers and employers in Tuolumne County, visit Mother Lode Job Training online at

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