Virtual Job Fairs Virtually Inaccessible to Millions

by Ava L. Parker on January 11, 2012

The One Economy campaign to extend broadband Internet access to every household is all about economic opportunities. The World Wide Web can create untold numbers of business successes, but because access is not yet universal, it can also create some economic refugees.

That, I’m afraid, appears to be the case with the trend toward virtual job fairs, and the problem highlights why the One Economy campaign is so important.

Job fairs have been around for a long time, and for good reason: They work. In a traditional job fair, the Chamber of Commerce, a college, or an employment agency secures a gymnasium or civic center and invites companies to set up booths staffed with recruiters. Job-seekers flock to the fair in search of employment. Employers meet potential employees, and people get hired. A lot is accomplished in a short time.

Virtual job fairs, a modern twist on the old tried and true, sounds like a great idea. Instead of having to rent a hall, the sponsor puts up a Web site. Employers post information, and job seekers prowl the pages looking for a good fit.

“Virtual Job Fair is an easy-to-use, weeklong event where local businesses showcase employment opportunities — from entry level to management,” says the Web page of one job-fair sponsor, Workforce Central Florida. “And the best thing is you can search for your next job from the privacy and convenience of your own computer, 24 hours a day….”

Sounds great. And it is. There is no cost to participate, and you can cover a lot of ground without leaving your home. What’s not to like?

“Typically, bricks and mortar job fairs attract job seekers and employers from only the county where they are held, but the virtual events can attract participants from across our five counties and beyond,” said Kimberly Sullivan, vice president of communications and business development for Workforce Central Florida, quoted in the Daily Commercial. “Our last virtual job fair featured 51 employers and more than 6,100 job seekers.”

The article explains that a job-seeker can conduct a search “from the privacy and convenience of a computer with Internet access.”

There’s that word again, “convenience.” Not if you don’t have Internet access in your home. As noted earlier on Broadband & Social Justice, more than half of all African Americans, Hispanics, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and households earning less than $25,000 per year remain unconnected to broadband.

This means that for millions of Americans, a virtual job fair is a great inconvenience. These fairs put them at a disadvantage in what should be an even-handed competition for employment.

Sure, they can go to a library. But libraries have heavy demand for computer use nowadays, so they may have to wait in line. And public libraries are shrinking their hours of operation, due to budget cuts. Even in the best of times, few libraries were open 24 hours a day, so access to the virtual job fair is limited for the Internet disenfranchised. None of this is convenient.

A job fair is a good thing. It is an excellent form of outreach by the business community, and a virtual job fair is an interesting innovation. But employment agencies and others who sponsor fairs must keep in mind that access to the Internet in America is far from universal, and a job fair that relies solely on Internet access is unfair to millions of people in the market for work.

This is another reason why it is so important that the United States — Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, business leaders, and state and local governments — move quickly to adopt policies and practices that extend broadband access to every household.

Virtual job fairs, like virtual everything else, may be the future of our economy, but only if we take steps now to include everyone in that digital dream.

  • Ava L. Parker of Jacksonville, Florida, is the president of Linking Solutions Inc., a business-development and community-outreach firm, and a partner in the law firm of Lawrence & Parker, PA., and the voice of The AvaView, a blog on digital action and consumer protection.

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  • JCraigDC

    So true.  Sadly, many of those without Internet access or broadband at home are those that need jobs the most.  Not only can broadband be used to apply for jobs, its increasingly being used as a low-cost method of training for certain degrees and certifications.

  • Kelby23

    Pretty sad. I have a lot of relatives who could greatly benefit from this, but I haven’t been able to convince them that broadband is worth the cost.

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