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Job fair attendees provide new insight into labor market challenges

Job seekers at hiring events note hurdles to finding the right job, including low pay and transportation issues

February 27, 2024


Haley Chinander Writer/Analyst
A female employer sits across a table from a potential job applicant
SDI Productions/Getty Images

Article Highlights

  • Job fairs make a comeback after pandemic put many on hold
  • Job seekers face challenges with available jobs
Job fair attendees provide new insight into labor market challenges

As many businesses continue to struggle with hiring workers, in-person job fairs have been slowly regaining popularity after many fairs moved online or were put on hold early in the pandemic.

Job Service North Dakota, the state’s workforce agency, started regularly hosting in-person job fairs again in March 2021.

“Since COVID, the attendance of both job seekers and employers at our in-person job fairs has steadily been growing,” said Julie Rostberg, a business service advisor with Job Service North Dakota.

Because of the increased visibility of job fairs and persistent labor shortages, the Minneapolis Fed is partnering with job fair organizers to learn more about current labor force dynamics. This past fall, the Minneapolis Fed heard from 224 job fair attendees across North Dakota and Minnesota through a survey distributed by Job Service North Dakota, JobsHQ, and CareerForce in West St. Paul. This survey is part of an ongoing effort by the Minneapolis Fed to better understand workers’ experiences and how job seekers view current opportunities in today’s labor market.

Across these fairs, job seekers reported encountering a variety of challenges during their employment search, including low pay at available jobs and transportation issues that can make it difficult to find the right job.

Job seekers look for more than just pay

About 75 percent of survey respondents were unemployed job seekers, while 20 percent were currently employed and searching for a different job. The remaining respondents were also employed but on the hunt for an additional job.

“I’m noticing more people at our job fairs who are currently employed but looking for better opportunities,” said Fran Zerr, a Job Service business advisor based in Williston, North Dakota. “The employers have to be flexible; there’s not a big pool of applicants out there.”

Attendees were asked about their job search priorities, and the largest share reported that having a good boss or manager is important to them, followed by a good schedule and pay. The ability to work from home was not a priority noted by many of these job seekers.

Jen Strand, an event coordinator with the online recruitment company JobsHQ, regularly hosts fairs across Minnesota and North Dakota. Strand said she is sometimes surprised by job seekers’ priorities. “Many times, when I asked what the job seekers were looking for, it wasn’t always the dollar amount. It was more the boss, the atmosphere, and the schedule that people found important.”

While pay isn’t everything for surveyed job seekers, over half of job fair respondents reported that low pay is nonetheless a consistent problem among available jobs (see Figure 1). Difficult schedules and high education and experience requirements were also noted as problems by more than one-quarter of respondents.

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Barriers to employment

Job fair attendees also reported that external barriers made their job search more difficult. The top challenge for job seekers was transportation issues (see Figure 2). Disabilities and medical issues also created problems for people. “Finding hours that cooperate with my medical issue [is a challenge],” one North Dakota job seeker wrote.

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Some respondents reported that online applications and a lack of employer response have made the search challenging. “The organizations using machines to read key words instead of having real people reading resumes and cover letters” has been a problem, one Minnesota job seeker wrote. Another respondent noted that hiring managers were “not communicating after interviews.”

Strand, from JobsHQ, has noticed the same trend. “I heard from people who said they applied for a lot of places but haven’t heard back. One person told me that they’d filled out more than 200 applications in their six-month job search.”

The staff members at Job Service North Dakota hope that the job fairs can break down some of the barriers that technology can create between employer and applicant. “At the in-person job fairs, the whole application and hiring process seems quicker and more streamlined,” Rostberg explained. “Both job seekers and employers want that instant connection of meeting right away.”

“We can see the job fairs are successful and that there’s definitely still a need for them, we see it from the feedback we get from both employers and job seekers,” added Mary Houdek, a Job Service North Dakota business advisor.

Strand has seen the benefits of the fairs herself. “I’ve had job seekers say thank you for putting them on, because it gives them an opportunity to actually talk directly with HR folks, and of course HR people are happy to see them as well. These events can be very successful for everyone.”

This survey was conducted using a convenience sample of job seekers at job fairs in North Dakota and Minnesota from October to December 2023. The results should be interpreted as a systematic collection of anecdotes and qualitative insights about individuals’ experiences in the region and not generalized to the broader job seeking population.

Haley Chinander

Haley Chinander is an analyst and writer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. In her role, Haley tracks and reports on the Ninth District economy with a focus on labor markets and business conditions. Follow her on Twitter @haleychinander.