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Colleges hear most employers still hiring

More than 90 employers shared their hiring plans and hopes for improved recruiting at a virtual town hall Tuesday, organized by local colleges and organizations.

The event was hosted by Augustana College, Black Hawk College, St. Ambrose University and Western Illinois University. Attendees included nonprofits, government agencies, and manufacturing, service and finance companies, among others.

In a Zoom poll, 61% said they are actively hiring, 18% said hiring is frozen for the foreseeable future and 15% plan to resume hiring when the COVID-19 stay-at-home order is lifted. Only 3% said they were laying off employees; the rest were unsure.

Only 10% said they expect to do in-person recruiting in the next six months, and Laura Kestner-Ricketts, Augustana executive director of career and professional development, asked the group members how receptive they would be to a virtual career fair instead of the traditional fall fairs.

Most indicated they would be very interested in such an event, in part because their budgets do not now allow for travel. Others said a virtual fair would allow them to get to more events.

Employers said they would be interested in a virtual fair with breakout rooms for different industries, and the ability to collect resumes from students during the fair.

They also said they would like to see the local colleges and universities hold a virtual career fair together. Although Augustana and St. Ambrose have held a joint event called ProFair for many years, there is no fair involving all four schools.

"Yes, we hope to do it," said Kestner-Ricketts. "We are exploring a virtual fair and some industry fairs."

She said career center directors are focused on helping students navigate a changing job market while also supporting employers.

Other notes and suggestions from employers:

-- There is currently proposed legislation to expand the AmeriCorps program over the next three years to help with the long-term impacts of the health care and economic impacts of the pandemic.  

-- Although many governments have a hiring freeze overall, they are still hiring to replace essential workers.

-- Providing resume books after a virtual career fair also helps the employers reach out to students that may have not had a chance to attend the actual event.

-- If all colleges used the same platform to share job listings with students, it would save time for employers.

-- Employers would like more accessibility and contact information for upcoming graduates and alumni.

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