Hundreds turn out to apply for work at Stoughton Trailers

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Thursday, January 13, 2011
— Ronna has been laid off for only a week.

But that's more than long enough, she said, considering that unemployment insurance is based on the amount of time worked the previous year.

The Beloit woman, who chose not to share her full name with the Gazette, had to take time off last year from her part-time job of six years at Swiss Colony in Monroe to care for her ill father. Then she was laid off last week.

"It's pretty tough when you're trying to feed your family and care for them," said Ronna, whose young grandson sat on her lap while she waited Wednesday morning for an interview at the Rock County Job Center.

Ronna was one of hundreds of applicants who attended a job fair hosted by Stoughton Trailers. According to an advertisement on GazetteXtraJobs.com, the Stoughton company is looking for assemblers, painters and welders to work first and second shifts at its Stoughton plant and first shift at its Brodhead plant.

The Brodhead plant was idled in 2008 when the company laid off more than 175 people from that location. The company will reopen the Brodhead plant with one shift, according to a July news release. The Stoughton plant was ramped up to two shifts from one in October, the release states.

The Evansville plant, which used to employ 400, remains closed and is for lease.

At its lowest point in the recession, Stoughton Trailers employed only 100 laborers, former Human Resources Vice President Patrice Gillespie previously told the Gazette. That number could reach 1,000 by the end of 2011, Gillespie said.

Attendees at Wednesday's job fair filled out applications and waited in the lobby and the cafeteria of the job center until their names were called for interviews.

It was the first such fair at the center in quite some time, said Bob Borremans of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. He expected a thousand people would apply for jobs. The center was busier than the average day of late, but Borremans couldn't say if this job fair was better attended than most.

"We haven't had a job fair in so long it's hard to compare," Borremans said.

The fact that a stable, local company with a good reputation is hosting a job fair is good news for the local economy, Borremans said.

According to recent Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development data, more than 7,000 Rock County residents are unemployed, Borremans said. More than 600 people filed new unemployment insurance claims in December, he said.

Job fairs are a way to see the faces behind the unemployment numbers, Borremans said. Individuals and small groups greeted each other—former coworkers who likely have not seen each other in months.

"There's a dynamic that goes on," Borremans said.

Kelly Ryan of Beloit was surprised and discouraged by the large number of applicants waiting for interviews. Normally, she goes to the job center three times a week to look for work, she said.

On Wednesday, Ryan got to the job center at 8:45 a.m., she said. She was called for an interview around 11.

If Ryan could work anywhere, it would be at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville, she said. Ryan has been a CNA since 2004 and was laid off in August from River Bluff Nursing Home in Rockford, Ill.

Ryan's goal is to return to school to get a nursing degree, but the process of getting into school is almost as daunting as waiting for hours with hundreds of others for a job interview, Ryan said.

LaMar Pulliam doesn't think workers should be daunted by the long lines of applicants for the Stoughton Trailer jobs and others. In his experience, which is considerable in the last two years, finding the job is the easy part. It's holding on to it that's hard for some, Pulliam said.

Pulliam is the coordinator of Community Action's Fatherhood Initiative, which provides job and life skills training to qualified men. The program also provides help with such things as overdue child support or unpaid fines.

Pulliam was at the job center with a group of men. He kept a close watch on his charges, directing one to sit and fill out an application and encouraging another to be patient.

Part of his job is teaching people that the sometimes undesirable entry-level jobs can lead to better positions, Pulliam said. Many times, people are so used to living day-to-day that they are unable to work toward a future for their families, he said. They have fallen into a mindset that they can pick and choose jobs, he said.

"If we can flip that script on how they think about work," Pulliam said, "that's how we can help them succeed."

Last updated: 4:06 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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