For a 2.0 Virtual Workforce, You Need a 2.0 Job Fair

For students of not too long ago, the job fair was a ritual they knew well. A chance to walk around tables, shake some hands, make some connections. And usually? Free tote bags. That kind of socialized work interaction seems like a complete break from our current reality. But for our most impacted individuals – community college students – it’s even more so.

Community College to Career began in 2018 as a way to link Silicon Valley’s brilliant young professionals to living wage jobs. With 350,000 students, including 54% women and 77% students of color, community colleges are an equity engine for many of Silicon Valley’s brightest and most industrious workers.

The career-ready training available at Community Colleges makes current students and recent grads superb choices for any organization that requires rapid change and skill acquisition, including IT, advanced manufacturing, biotech, and business. The average CC student is late 20s, and most already have work experience, plus a proven track record of managing life obligations amidst a rapidly shifting world of work.

And work has rarely shifted more and more rapidly than this year.

It’s a world of remote work, telemeetings and whole new skillsets that no one knew you needed until a few months ago. We are adapting, but while total unemployment is down compared to previous months, our nation has a long way to go. Ultimately, the best path forward is more and better jobs.

The Leadership Group is proud to coordinate with regional colleagues to embrace the global shift to virtual meetings and direct our efforts into online job fairs. In August, we co-hosted a first-ever virtual regional Career Fair alongside our colleagues from the Bay Area Council, Ohlone College, and Bay Area Community College Consortium. Please see our write-up here. We’re pleased that the Hire Together Series is offering perhaps the single most important piece of the COVID recovery puzzle: living wage jobs.

Unemployment and under-employment is particularly scathing for our young people, ages 18-25, many of whom are struggling to remain in school, hold down a job, care for family, and attend to the many unexpected challenges of COVID-19. It’s in this landscape that we want to highlight the tangible and exciting opportunities for emerging professionals that many of our member companies are cultivating.

We teamed up with our colleagues once more to co-host Hire Together 2.0 on November 19th from 1-3 pm. Always wanting to improve and better serve our members and region, we re-designed the format to be more student-centric.

For example, Maria de la Luz Parra and Ruby Romero, students at Hartnell College and Rajbir Rai, an intern at Ohlone College, welcomed job seekers from across the region. As our colleagues in education and talent development know, some students do not feel that their voice counts so they would rather not speak up than risk being shot down or embarrassed, particularly in high stakes settings such as in front of their peers or being evaluated for a paid position. Thanks to Maria, Ruby, and Raj, we hoped to create a peer-to-peer effect to encourage Community College talent that their skills are indeed wanted by top employers.

Cultivating a strong workforce requires designing better user experience for students. One of the biggest questions our attendees had in August was how to show that their prior life and work experience is applicable to new jobs and new companies. To prioritize targeted feedback and more in-depth discussion, we’re structured the November 19th virtual format to prioritize meaningful conversations between students, recruiters, and career professionals.

Hire Together 2.0 registered 1000 students from 20+ colleges and universities, and featured 17 zoom rooms — one for each employer — with semi-structured conversations between students and hiring managers to maximize the quality of interactions. It also included a career services room staffed by college specialists to provide additional jobseeker support. By offering more Q&A, targeted feedback, and insights into the application process, students experienced less intimidation about the job search process. We believe the format helped job seekers to receive the guidance they need.

Notably, the sessions repeated 3 times to give ample opportunity for recruiters to describe the virtues of their companies and for job seekers to visit multiple sessions. The event also featured a separate job readiness room for feedback on resumes, LinkedIn accounts, tailoring cover letters to the specific requirements of each position, and deeper dives into identifying students’ transferable skills.

Our Community College and university partners played a priceless role. Many campuses are providing facilitators for our breakout rooms and using their zoom links to host. Far from just being about logistics, it’s necessary for the format to be student-friendly.

Students receive a lot of outreach materials, but usually only attend events that they believe are designed with them in mind. As many of us know, young professionals often use word of mouth, student groups, social media, and other forms of highly efficient but less traceable communication. We need to accommodate student tendencies for when, where, and how they get information so they have ample time to make room in their demanding schedules for events like Hire Together.

Ultimately, whatever else can be said about our current reality, it has been a catalyst for change. Hiring events and the students who attend them are no exception to it. In fact, they may be even more transformed than many. But with the Hire Together 2.0 event, we may at least be setting the template for a new way to connect. And by populating it with students from the Community College to Career pipeline, we’ll at least be doing it with the most dynamic, adaptable future workforce we have.

– Sara Murdock, Ph.D., Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation, November 20, 2020