The Iowa Reverse Job Fair Effort
By Guest Bloggers David Mitchell, Administrator, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Michelle Krefft, Resource Manager for Business Services, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Chair, Employer’s Disability Resource Network
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act provides a chance for state systems to think differently regarding service delivery to individuals with disabilities that results in employment. In Iowa, this has provided chances for various employment systems to come together with new energy, purpose and innovation as we work to align processes, increase capacity and move the employment dial forward for individuals with disabilities. An example of this type of collaboration is the reverse job fair concept. Iowa has developed a collaborative group of partners – the Employer’s Disability Resource Network, who have worked together to host the reverse job fairs.
The reverse job fair takes the typical business career fair, where job candidates travel from booth to booth – and reverses the action. In the reverse job fair, job candidates host their own booths, preparing their marketing materials to brand their skills, abilities and interests in entertaining and informative ways. This allows them to present themselves in a manner that showcases their work contributions and provides a new method of communicating with businesses that fits the comfort level of the job seeker. As business hiring authorities travel from booth to booth, the candidates present themselves highlighting their specific business contributions. Job candidates prepare in advance practicing their 30-second elevator speeches and preparing poster boards, models, or video and picture demonstrations, as creative displays of work skills that might meet a business need.
The reverse job fair provides flexibility in approaches and set-ups. You can target specific industries, career pathways, organizations, youth and adults. One is limited only in their creativity to think outside the box in ways to identify connections between businesses needing qualified workers and the job candidate pool. For the trial run of the reverse job fair, we had 50 participating businesses that showed up because of their commitment and interest in hiring individuals with disabilities. We actually had more businesses participate than our 24 job candidates! Most exciting was the five job candidates that accepted employment offers in positions matching their career interest goals! This is significant and reflects the value of the reverse job fair effort as the individual participants were individuals who were experiencing long-term unemployment.
This initiative is a win-win proposition for all involved. We witnessed the boost in positive self-esteem and the confidence gained by job candidates who utilized the materials they developed to comfortably talk about their work interests. Not only did the reverse job fair provide opportunities for connections between job candidates and business, it provided relationship and partner building between our employment service professionals and business hiring personnel. We gained a greater understanding of the needs of our business partners, which helped us identify service strategies. Our business partners recognized an often overlooked talent pool to fill business needs and diversify their workforce.
In subsequent reverse job fairs, we have been able to increase the number of job candidates, which utilizes the time of our business partners in a more efficient way. The following provides a summary of our learned activities from the first fair:
The Iowa Reverse Job Fair – What We Learned
What went well
- More than 50 business representatives attended.
- Candidates were employed as a result of the fair.
- Everyone who participated learned skills they plan to continue to use.
- Partnership is the key to success.
- It was great to have a lot of persons helping the candidates, multiple eyes on a resume.
- Professional staff felt this helped prepare our candidates.
- Boot camp was a key to preparation of our candidates.
- Businesses liked the colored tablecloths for organization – they liked being able to go to the candidates who had the skill sets they were seeking.
What we learned
- It is best to have all events in the same location (parking causes anxiety for participants; it is best for them to not have to relearn these types of things).
- We need to follow up after the fair with our candidates to ensure that they are connecting with the businesses.
- We need to determine a way to track employment outcomes without duplicating numbers across systems (many people were dual job candidates).
- We are missing the follow-up on keeping the group together for networking after the fair.
- Businesses did not like waiting in line to meet a candidate.
- Businesses wanted more candidates to interview.
What we will do differently
- The event will be held in the same location for our next fair. We will look at the room and parking prior to announcing the location to ensure free parking and large room size.
- A post-boot camp will happen to have discussions about who they connected with and who talked to them about applying. This information will be given to their support staff for follow-up.
- Each candidate will be assigned a table number- this is what will be used for the placement of their booth as well as for follow-up.
- At the post-boot camp, we will talk about a “support” group that a “leader” from the group helps to arrange. This will help job candidates to have a network of other job seekers for support. When we think about our work, we do things with those that we went through orientation with – we bond – and it would be great for them to develop these bonds as well.
- We will stagger employers to ensure the room is not packed and businesses are not waiting in lines to meet candidates.
- We will invite 50 candidates to the next job fair.
Our first reverse job fair also picked up media coverage and was shown on the nightly news across the state viewing area. The following link will allow you to see the media coverage: http://whotv.com/2016/03/09/reverse-job-fair-connects-iowans-with-disabilities-to-employers/
The following link provides further information on the Employer Disability Resource Network, http://www.edrnetwork.org/.
About the Guest Bloggers
David Mitchell is the Administrator for the State of Iowa’s Vocational Rehabilitation program. He received his Master of Science Degree from Drake University in Counseling and Personnel Services and earned his undergraduate degree from Iowa State University in Social Work and Industrial Administration. He is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. For leadership efforts promoting employment for individuals with the most significant disabilities, Mitchell was selected as an Employment First National Ambassador in 2014 by the Office of Disability Employment Policy. He was the Lou Ortale National Rehabilitation Job Placement Lecturer and received the Iowa Rehabilitation Association Gerry Byers Award in 2014.
Michelle Krefft has been a resource manager for business services for the past 1 ½ years, In this position, she is the chair of EDRN (Employment Disability Resource Network), which serves businesses in Iowa through creative and collaborative ways. She also works closely with business partners across the state of Iowa to help with workflow design through utilizing job analysis. Prior to this position, she was a counselor in the Mason City office for 14 years, leading the state with successful outcomes for several consecutive years. During her work as a counselor, she was the recipient of state and national job placement awards.