The Job Fair

A couple of weeks ago I attended a job fair which was held at a local school. The premise was that students nearing the end of their school year would come and look at the many local and international job opportunities. It has been many-a-year since I attended my own high school job fair, and I found myself in a reflective mood. If I was a bit wiser, and could now go back to those pre-graduation days, I would certainly give myself a forceful shake and tell myself to take things more seriously.

Like most grade 12 students I had to endure the career and aptitude test, which consisted of a school councillor leading the class to the library where we sat for 45 minutes in front of yellow computer monitors plunking responses to questions. The dot-matrix printer would scream and grind out our results: I was either going to be a priest of a biologist. I kid you not. A neighbouring student asked the from the front of the room as he held his paper up, “what’s a backhoe operator?”. Apparently, he is still a backhoe operator; seems very happy with his life, and probably makes a lot more money than I do on any particular job site.

Of the German job fair there were the usual types of companies; however, there were a few differences. One being that there were no ‘resource industries’ represented. Nobody is going to grow up to be a logger, or fisherman here! Instead, the University was present with a sign saying that they ‘invest in people’ which is very much what the German work environment does. There’s not a lot of nature, but there sure is a lot of people.

Another interesting difference was that I was on the market; meaning, a few people from the job stands came up to chat with me. One was a company which focuses on retraining people – say from Coal Miner to become an Electrical Engineer. At my own high school job fair I remember feeling that I was the one trying to sell myself to the employers, not vice versa. I may have seen one or two young people handing out resumés the entire evening, but on the whole, it was the companies which were trying to sell themselves to the students.

My job, that evening, was to walk around with a sausage and bun lathered in mustard, slowly enjoying my food so that people would find themselves hungry and head to the class shop selling food, drinks and cake — all to raise funds for my daughters school trip. I was a walking advertisement.

Many of the employers at the school job fair struggle to find workers, and there is nowhere near the same level of flexibility in your career pick, but you do end up with some very highly trained and highly dedicated employees. In Germany, employers will train people for sometimes 2-3 years, often with the assurance of a career at the end of it all. The catch is that while a company invests in your training, they really don’t pay well during that period. In a way, both parties, the employee and the employer are banking on the future. One problem is that you better be darn sure you are going to like being a florist (which are in short supply apparently), as I have heard horror stories of people training for years in a specialized career only to find that in the real job situation they actually (finally) find that they have no desire whatsoever to do the job. (Who new I was so allergic to flowers!) And there’s the trap. Either you are going to get a heavily invested, highly trained workforce; or you get people who hate every moment of their jobs and they know that they will be doing this for the rest of their working career. Welcome the passive aggressive customer service representative who robotically makes a habit of making my life in the store a tedious experience. (Maybe that is what they are really trained to do in the first place?) The system seems to produce the very best, or possibly the very worst.

On the other hand, it reminded me of being a student handing out resumé after resumé being asked if I have experience in — fill-in-the-blank — job as they only hire people with experience. How can I have experience if I’ve never had a job? Just how difficult is it to wash dishes anyway?

Nearing the end of high school I can remember job hunting with a friend. We both went to a restaurant as a number of positions were advertised as available. We were both told that we might be able to work as dishwashers, because we were not good looking enough to be serving staff. I left the interview then and there, whilst my friend got the job…and left after a week because he hated it so much.

For this particular evening at the German school job fair my role was to be the supportive husband and loving father. I taxied people back and forth from the school and came late to pick up the left over racks from the bakery and my wife who had done the bulk of the organization. I ‘modelled’ the Wurst waving the scent around so that people would become moved with hunger and finance my daughters school trip. I consoled groups of students who felt too nervous to go and talk with the technical employer as they didn’t really know what to ask. I asked the strange unexpected questions to some of the kiosk members (like, why do you have a beard if you are working in the Army? I had to explain, as the smile on the large man in camouflage disappeared that this isn’t really done in Canada unless you are Navy). I held bags of ‘swag’ that students had collected (we have more pens, sticky-notes, and key chains than we know what to do with). I met and spoke to a few teachers, parents and some job fair headhunters and tried to explain my own job as the Anglican priest in Freiburg.

Maybe we just land in the right job, big or small, after all is said and done.