Hundreds apply at warehouse recruitment

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Neil Johnson
August 14, 2015

JANESVILLE—If steel company A.M. Castle wanted a flood of local applicants to choose from to fill its work ranks at a new distribution and fabricating facility it plans later this year in Janesville, its dream came true.

Jobseekers, hundreds of them, flocked to an employee recruitment event A.M. Castle held at the Rock County Job Center Friday afternoon, crowding the parking lot and every seat in the lobby for hours at the center at 1900 Center Ave. in Janesville.

A.M. Castle isn't even officially in town yet. Ground was just broken a few weeks ago for  the 200,000-square-foot facility on the city's east side.

But the company is seeking to hire 60 warehouse operators to staff the facility. About a half-dozen human resources workers for the company worked to test, screen and interview applicants Friday during the first day of a recruitment fair that continues Saturday morning.

The big draw for the approximately 400 jobseekers Friday: The warehouse positions A.M. Castle is trying to fill start at $16.50 per hour, the job center confirmed.

A.M. Castle officials at the event did not comment Friday or call back a Gazette reporter who sought comment on how much the warehouse jobs would pay, or whether the positions would be permanent or full time.

But some applicants interviewed said that landing a job in the company's future warehouse would double the pay they now earn at local part-time jobs in manufacturing and labor, even if it wasn't a full-time job.

Yet based on the number of those applying Friday alone, some thought they'd need either a memorable interview or plain old luck to land a job with the company.

“Getting this job would be like winning the lottery,” Beloit resident Robert Rygh said. “And I'm talking about the odds of actually getting hired for this job, and the benefits of getting the job, both. It's $16.50 an hour. You can't find jobs with that kind of pay anywhere around here, not for warehouse jobs or material handling,”

Rygh was in a large room at the job center, among about 50 applicants who were seated at rows of tables. The applicants, men and women ranging in age from their early 20s to late 50s, all had been culled for on-the-spot interviews based on their performance on a half-hour-long math skills test the company had administered.

Rygh, 60, says he works part-time as a custodian at Beloit City Hall. That job, he said, pays $8 an hour, and he works half days.

Rygh said he and his wife, who works for an area school district, are OK financially, mainly because of his wife's pay and insurance benefits. But Rygh wants to earn more money, and that's why came to the recruitment Friday.

“For most people, $8 an hour isn't enough to live on. It's not going to cut it,” he said.

One local woman waiting for an interview with A.M. Castle said she's worked two part-time jobs in the last three years that pay $8 to $10 an hour. One of the jobs was “seasonal,” and her position was eliminated six months after she started.

The woman didn't want to give her name or say where she works, because she was afraid her employer would learn she'd applied for a better-paying job.

“They'd fired me. I'd be done,” the woman said.

The woman said she wants better pay and more job stability.

“I need to earn more to get by, and I need a job that's full time and permanent, not something you start and then get laid off in six months because it's seasonal work, and they don't want to hire anybody full time.”

Dana Melahn, a caseworker at the job center, said the heavy turnout for the recruitment Friday was unusual. She expected A.M. Castle's Saturday recruitment would probably have a line out the door.

“It's because of the high starting pay that this company (A.M. Castle) is offering. Plain and simple,” she said.

Melahn said other recent job fairs at the job center haven't fared as well. One recent event there had 41 employers, but only about 175 jobseekers showed up.

“We're trying to figure out why that happened. The (July) numbers for unemployment in Rock County just came out, and it's down a little (from 5.3 percent) to 5 percent. People may be finding jobs on their own, maybe there's less demand,” she said.

Melahn said interest in local service jobs, which typically pay on the low end of the wage spectrum, are seeing waning interest. But she suggested medium-pay jobs also are seeing strains in hiring.

The job center has been hosting jobs “boot camps” in cooperation with area trade schools, including a recent welding crash course geared to fill “skills gaps” that some local industries say are hampering hiring as much as employee turnover. This at a time when demand for products is increasing.

Melahn said the job center's crash courses include meet-and-greets and mock interviews with local industries. Some industries, she said, say they're training workers to advance them to more skilled and better-paying jobs within.

Others aren't, she said.

“That's something along with the wage issue that I wish some industries would work on,” she said.

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