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Job-seekers struggle with low-wage options

Costs of the hunt also make it difficult

DIXON – Keith Starr of Rock Falls says he's jumped through so many hoops to get a job you might as well call him Flipper.

The 34-year-old has been unemployed since 2010, when he lost his job with Illinois Department of Transportation because of an on-the-job eye injury.

He was one of about 200 people who attended a career fair Thursday at Sauk Valley Community College.

Starr, who studies welding at the college, goes all the way to Canada in the summers to work as a contract driver hauling carnival rides because he has been unable to find work locally.

Fellow welding student Steve Jackley, 54, also has found it hard to find a job locally.

"It used to be a man could walk across the street and say, 'You need some help?'" Jackley said. "Now you're constantly looking."

Jackley, of Polo, has been unemployed for 4 years since the plant he worked for in Wisconsin closed. The Rock Falls native, agrees with Starr: Wages being offered for the jobs they seek are too low.

Companies want to "pay employees dirt cheap," he said.

Starr agreed. "It's impossible to find a livable wage," which would be about $17 an hour, he said.

People can go broke from a job hunt, said Starr, who has gone to early-morning job interviews in the Quad Cities and slept in his pickup because he could not afford a hotel.

He did not want to make day trips out of the interviews because he gets better mileage during lighter traffic at night, and had to sell scrap metal to pay for the gas, he said.

Starr said he's been frustrated by having to provide the same information over and over to the same company. Many times he's applied online for a job, and still had to submit a paper resume and fill out a paper application, he said.

Luckily he has a computer, so applying online is not a problem for him. But Jackley has no Internet access at home.

Neither does Amy McQuality, 41, of Polo, who is also looking for work.

They both rely on library computers.

"I think if you did not have Internet access, job-hunting would be extremely difficult," McQuality said.

McQuality, who has a bachelor's degree in education, has not had a full-time job since 1997, when her daughter was born. Now divorced, the former stay-at-home mom has had a hard time finding full-time work.

"It seems like when I'm job-hunting, everywhere you go, there are always people picking up applications," she said. "When I do job-hunting, I always see other people doing the same thing."

McQuality has no car and borrows her parents' to job hunt, so she cannot be hired for some jobs that require reliable transportation. For example, Visiting Angels, a home care service for seniors, was at the fair looking for caregivers, but the jobs required a car, she said.

Rachel Untz is director of human resources at Nippon Sharyo Manufacturing, a rail car manufacturert in Rochelle. The company just announced an expansion that will generate about 80 more jobs, she said.

The company has had great success finding quality job candidates with the skills it needs, or with comparable skills who are trainable, she said.

The region's manufacturing history might be a reason Nippon has been able to find suitable employees in the area with carpentry, mechanical, electrical and manufacturing engineering skills, she said.

"We're fully aware that there are not a lot of people in Northwest Illinois who have built rail cars, but we're willing to train," she said.

Christine Wolfe is a staffing specialist at Manpower.

"The more skills required for a position, it's more time-consuming and harder to find the right fit," she said.

She struggles to fill purchaser positions in which employees order needed materials. Those positions require either purchasing backgrounds or proficiency in certain computer programs, she said.

When companies in "industrial settings" need to fill customer service positions, she sometimes has a hard time finding an employee because it is hard to find someone with customer service in that kind of setting, she said.

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