FRONT ROYAL – Low unemployment rates are slicing through Warren County two ways as businesses hum along in search of new employees.
Warren County’s unemployment rate in February — the most recent figure available — was 3.3, a small increase from previous months but still a strong number. While only hundreds — compared to thousands elsewhere — are looking for jobs, there are plenty of jobs available.
Niki Foster, president of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, said the low unemployment rates are making things harder on small businesses.
“We look at what the needs are in our community and put programming together based on that,” Foster said. “One of the things is we have a number of businesses locally, particularly small businesses looking for employees.”
A handful of local businesses including the town itself set up in a conference room inside the Samuels Public Library for a job fair on Tuesday afternoon to connect with the community. The initial rush, Foster said, was strong but as the flow died down, employers had more time to sit and talk with job-seekers.
Bunnie Grant, the director of nursing at Shenandoah Senior Living, said connecting with prospective employees is important for her.
“It’s real important to me there are certified people to take care of people,” Grant said. “I can teach you the skills but you gotta have the heart.”
Grant said Shenandoah Senior Living plays an important role in the community, offering assisted living to people who are unable to stay in their homes. One in six people in America, Grant said, will be affected by dementia, necessitating a surge in caregivers.
“With dementia becoming such a big health care need, we are going to need qualified people to take care of them,” she said. “Health care is a good place for anybody who maybe doesn’t know what they want because you can go in so many directions.”
Entry-level positions as a caregiver come with hours of training and certifications, allowing men and women to move up. Grant said she offers different training courses, one 40 hours long, another 120 hours, which certify caregivers to become direct caregivers or certified nursing assistants.
Marcia Tobolsky, a Front Royal resident who moved to the United States from Ecuador 20 years ago, spoke with Grant but said her background is in advertising and graphic design.
“Before I came to the United States, I worked 17 years in advertisement as an artist and graphic designer,” Tobolsky said. “Here, because you don’t always use your skills, you need to learn different skills.”
Tobolsky said she is selling jewelry and artwork on Etsy, but came to the job fair to try to find something more steady. Because of her experience in advertising and working with companies, she said she would like to do something with customer service. Working in advertising or with art would work too, she said.
Not everyone at Tuesday’s fair came in ready to present a resume.
Matthew Castillo, 22, of Front Royal, said he has been on disability since he turned 18 and doesn’t have any work experience.
“I’m looking to get myself out of the house and look for something small that I can do,” he said.
Finding and meeting needs like Castillo’s, Foster said, is what the chamber is there to address.
“Our tagline is connecting businesses and community,” she said, “so we see this as fitting into that.”
In the past, the chamber has hosted job fairs in local hotels, but this year it was moved to the library, a central location that is easier to access for residents, Foster said. As a result, more people turned out than in previous years and the feedback from employers was positive, she said.
“I’ve talked to a couple of employers who feel like they’ve got some really good leads and they’ve scheduled some further appointments,” Foster said. “That’s a really positive thing and we’re happy to hear that because, at the end of the day, that’s what we want to do. We want to connect some folks and maybe make some businesses a little happier.”