RACINE — It wasn’t the typical job fair. A DJ was planning music, food was being cooked on the grill and the sun was shining.

It was much more of a Job Fest.

On Thursday, Racine County officials brought together 18 area employers and 23 community organizations, like United Way and Workforce Solutions, for a Job Fest at Julian Thomas Elementary, 930 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The event was held on the school playground. Parents were encouraged to bring their kids.

Melvin Hargrove, manager of Uplift 900, a county effort to get 900 county residents better job training and employment, was one of the main organizers for the event.

Hargrove said the county wanted to bring a more “festive” atmosphere as opposed to other job fairs that might be located in a gymnasium or auditorium.

“Sometimes the barrier is, many times, the building,” Hargrove said of people feeling intimidated to go into an establishment and ask for an application. “Whether we accept it or not, the barrier is a building. If the people see the employers are willing to come to them, where they are, and break down the barriers and have a relaxed atmosphere … I like the idea of breaking the barriers down.”

The idea of allowing children to be at the event Hargrove said stemmed from removing the barrier of finding child care while Mom and Dad look for a job.

“The children see the parents looking for a job and that begins to show them, ‘this is what I need to be doing,’ ” Hargrove said. “Maybe in a small way, (that will) break down some generational things as well.”

‘This is all new to me’

More than 200 people attended the Job Fest, which was more than what the county expected, each of them with a different reason for looking for a job.

Racine resident Kenny Carr said, “I haven’t had a job in a couple of months and I came out here to find a job that I like and I think I found one.”

Carr said he is interested in being a part-time warehouse worker for Grand Appliances: “The only problem is, I have to walk out there to get the application.” Carr said he is still hoping to get a job there.

William Craft is now retired after working as a certified nursing assistant at a senior housing facility. He said he was looking for some part-time employment.

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“I walked around and talked to people; asked some questions and got some answers to things,” Craft said. “This is all new to me.”

Deborah Andersen drove down from Oak Creek, looking for paralegal or computer work.

“There’s a lot of great opportunities out there,” Andersen said. “Everyone’s very friendly and they’re able to help me get information. I even got information for my children … that I’d like to have out of my home.”

Andersen said she has “several very good leads” for new job.

“I feel very encouraged,” Andersen said.

Recruiting in the community

For employers, the Job Fest was an opportunity to answer questions from interested candidates and start the process of hiring.

UNFI Wisconsin, located in Sturtevant, is a food distributor for grocery stores such as Whole Foods, and representatives from the company were looking for workers in their warehouse.

“It’s important to get out in the community and try to recruit members that are in this area,” said Eric Brothen, HR business partner for UNFI.

Daniel Shuerman, warehouse supervisor for UNFI Wisconsin, said the job market is becoming more competitive, “so you got to find new ways to go out and reach people.”

Gabriel Vargas, operation manager for Belle Urban System, was looking for part-time bus drivers and was dispelling any misconceptions about becoming a bus driver.

“People are afraid of not having a (commercial driver’s) license,” Vargas said. “Part of our training is to get them a (commercial driver’s license).”

Vargas said having the “more relaxed” environment definitely created a positive atmosphere for those seeking employment and those looking for employees.

“It gives people an opportunity to help people find what they want to do,” Vargas said. “Most people go with what they have experience with in the past. So this gives them an idea of the different choices that they want to apply for.”

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