Fort Smith Chamber Business and Career Expo hopes to connect job seekers with employers

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 445 views 

More than 80 exhibitors including 25 who are “actively hiring” will hit the Fort Smith Business and Career Expo on May 5, according to Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Allen.

“We could not be any more pleased with the resources and presenters that will be available both to jobseekers and area businesses,” said Tim Allen, Chamber presiden and CEO. “This year’s Business and Career Expo is about pairing up skilled, talented individuals who want to advance their career and local businesses who want to expand their market by showcasing their product lines and services.”

Approximately 200 area high school students as well as military personnel are expected to be in attendance.

The expo will take place May 5 the Fort Smith Convention Center with presenting sponsors Baldor and Trac Staffing from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event will feature more than 80 exhibitors, 25 of which are actively hiring, Allen said.

“The immediate benefit of attending the Business and Career Expo is that job seekers have the ability to meet face-to-face with company representatives who are hiring,” Allen told Talk Business & Politics. “These companies are interested in finding talent for their needs and can propel the hiring process forward by meeting directly with a candidate. Online job sites can begin a process, but being able to introduce yourself face-to-face with an interested company is invaluable.”

On what a city still redefining its economic identity can expect from the career expo, Allen said 20 years ago, “a large of part of the hiring and workforce in the region was centered on traditional manufacturing jobs,” noting that while those jobs “were the cornerstone of the Fort Smith economy, the reality is that our economy has changed and the focus now is on technology-centered positions.”

“The companies represented at the Business and Career Expo have embraced that concept and are excited to meet the talent that Fort Smith offers,” Allen said.

The day will begin with the monthly First Friday Breakfast, also held at the Convention Center. That event requires a reservation, and is $18 for members to attend ($20 non-members). The breakfast presentation will include a discussion moderated by Talk Business & Politics and a keynote address by Ted Abernathy, a nationally recognized speaker on economics. The topic will focus on the 21st Century workforce.

Abernathy is an economic development policy adviser to the Southern Governors Association as well as the managing partner of Economic Leadership LLC, a consultancy that works in over a dozen states to develop economic strategies. His address on the 21st Century workforce is particularly relevant to Fort Smith, which, as Allen pointed out, is a city transitioning from traditional manufacturing to advanced manufacturing as well as service-based industries. From February 2016 to February 2017, the Fort Smith metro lost 1,593 jobs.

Abernathy has worked with the Northwest Arkansas Council on workforce issues for several years, and spoke at the recent NWA Workforce Summit, where he addressed skills gaps in the labor market.

“Most job candidates think they are qualified, employers say they are not,” he said. “This mismatch between the talent pool and human resource hiring teams has become somewhat of a national obsession in recent years.”

Abernathy said this “mismatch” will likely exist for several more years, in part because of a new breed of employee he calls “digital nomads,” or freelancers/contract workers, who choose not to sign on with a single employer. These individuals represent a growing percentage of the workforce.

“Everywhere we go CEOs tell us the No. 1 consideration for new investment is the availability of skilled labor. … But they don’t always know what types of skills will be necessary next year much less in the next five years, which makes the education piece even more complicated, creating workforce conundrums,” Abernathy said.

Further complicating matters is the oversupply of workers on a global scale that will only get worse as more jobs become automated through the already-in-motion rise of artificial intelligence, autonomous automobiles, 3-D printing and Industry 4.0 — something Abernathy refers to as machines interacting with other machines.

The first breakout session after Abernathy’s address will begin at 9 a.m., and will be conducted by Col. Bobbie Doorenbos, commander of the 188th Wing. This will be followed by a workforce development session led by Dave Robertson, director of the Family Enterprise Center and the Center for Business and Professional Development at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) at 10 a.m.

CyberSpyder will handle eMarketing at 11 a.m., followed by Nathan George of the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, who will speak on small business assistance at noon.

The 1 p.m. session will be conducted by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (ADWS) and will focus on workforce training grants, and that will be followed by a final breakout session on soft skills for reentering the workforce, conducted by Amber Mullis, also of ADWS.