100 reps attend career fair at UM

Posted Jan. 28, 2009, at 9:01 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Hospitals are eliminating positions. National retail chains are reporting layoffs. Paper mills are closing.

It’s enough to put a scare into any college student getting ready to look for a summer internship or job, as University of Maine juniors Toby Poirier and James Morin were doing Wednesday morning at the UMaine annual Career Fair.

Dressed in suits and ties, the two Lewiston natives made notes in their career fair programs about the companies with which they wanted to meet and from whom they planned to get information. The biology majors are both interested in the health care profession.

“Anything related to health, insurance, medicine, I even talked to the Army about their health care team,” Morin said. “There’s a lot of avenues, and I guess that’s what I’m expecting from the career fair.”

Around 1,000 students were expected to attend the daylong fair, which featured companies and organizations from Maine and beyond. UMaine Career Center director Patty Counihan said 116 employers signed up although 18 canceled because of the impending snowstorm.

The UMaine fair’s numbers are down — Counihan said last year 149 companies signed up — but the UM fair experienced less of a decline than other fairs around New England.

Counihan said there is a general unease among students about the job market, but that unease might motivate students to get an early start on job or internship searches. A larger-than-average group of 75 students attended a resume review day last week, she added.

“I think they’re being serious about it,” Counihan said. “They know they need to work at it. … Many of these companies do have full-time jobs available. Just because they’re laying off from this sector doesn’t mean they aren’t hiring in that sector.”

UMaine’s Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism had a table at the fair for the first time to help promote civic organizations that offer employment, stipends or volunteer opportunities such as AmeriCorps-VISTA, Peace Corps, Penquis and Heifer International.

Rockland native Dianne Grade found last year that attending the career fair can lead directly to a job. As a UMaine senior, Grade spoke with Falmouth-based Tyler Technologies at the 2008 fair. This year, she returned as a Tyler employee helping human resources representative Missy Poole recruit for the software development company.

“My advice to students would be to take advantage of the opportunities you have in school to differentiate yourself,” said Grade, a consultant who trains clients on the Tyler software. “Get involved in outside activities. Make contacts. Create those relationships while you’re in school.”

Internships are an increasingly popular way to connect to a job. The Fort Kent-based Irving Woodlands LLC was seeking five paid summer interns to serve as foresters, said Cameron Rust of the company’s human resources department. Last summer, Rust said, three summer interns were hired on as full-time foresters.

“Our company has been around for a long time,” Rust said. “We’re going to go through a rough patch, but we’re always looking at the long term.”

One of Toby Poirier’s career fair stops was Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft. Ken Porter, the hospital’s director of human resources, said he knows the news isn’t good, but Mayo is looking for registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, and physical and occupational therapists.

“Health care is a good place to be in, although we’re seeing some scary headlines these days,” Proctor said. “I still think the health care profession in the long term is a pretty solid industry.”

Still, Morin and Poirier are worried. They both plan to attend medical school someday, but it’s hard to ignore the headlines, including Tuesday’s announcement that Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor was eliminating 76 jobs.

“We picked health care because we thought it was one of the most secure industries in the country,” Morin said. “When we continue to see these hospitals laying people off, it makes you feel like nothing really is all that secure anymore.”

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