Community of Opportunity Hiring Expo took place Friday at RTHS

On Friday, the Community of Opportunity Hiring Expo was held at Rochelle Township High School for jobseekers including students and members of the public.

‘There's something here for everybody’

ROCHELLE — On Friday, the Community of Opportunity Hiring Expo was held at Rochelle Township High School for jobseekers including students and members of the public.

The event was sponsored by the City of Rochelle, Office of Mayor John Bearrows, Kishwaukee College, RTHS, Rochelle Foods - Hormel, Rochelle Chamber of Commerce, Ralfie’s BBQ and 102.3 The Coyote & Superhits 93.5. Those partners have teamed up to host a handful of job fairs since the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues resulted in a workforce shortage both locally and nationwide.

The day started with RTHS juniors and seniors coming through the expo that was attended by 40 commercial, retail, industrial and service employers. City Industrial Development Manager Peggy Friday said “hundreds” of students had a chance to connect with local employers.

“Some were looking for jobs and some were just browsing and making connections,” Friday said. “It's a good exercise for them because when they get closer to graduation they'll be looking for summer employment, seasonal work or more. This is a great place to start. The businesses here range from heavy manufacturing down to our service organizations. There's something here for everybody."

The hiring expo was open to the public from noon to 2 p.m. at RTHS. Friday said that each time a hiring expo has been held in Rochelle, the enthusiasm of employers has increased and she heard positive comments from employers that attended. 

Aside from meeting potential employees, scheduling and conducting interviews and making hires, the expo also allowed for networking opportunities between local businesses.

"Networking is the key,” Friday said. “Employers are very excited to be here. If they can make a few hires or schedule some interviews, their time has been worth it. But one of the things is they're rarely all in the same room together. To get everybody in the same room for two hours allows them to network and visit with each other. It really helps the community because we have the camaraderie of these businesses working together rather than in separate silos throughout the community."

The hiring expo’s organizers wanted to showcase success stories from past expos at Friday’s event. They include two former RTHS students. Jasmine Sarabia came through the expo as a junior and senior and it resulted in her currently being employed part-time by the Rochelle Fire and Police Departments. 

Former RTHS student Edgar Lopez went through previous job fairs as a student and was at Friday’s expo as an employer with UPS out of Rockford. 

“I talked to him earlier today and he said it was a surreal experience watching kids walk through, because that was him,” Friday said. “And now he's here as an employer wanting to give back to his community and reach out. Those are the kinds of successes that make all the work that goes into a job fair worth it."

The hiring expo was part of a continued effort by local leaders at the city, RTHS and Kishwaukee College to aid in business retention and help local employers. Kishwaukee College works with businesses that would like employees to have specialized training. RTHS has expanded its career in technical studies and industrial development programs. 

“More than ever before, they're working daily with our industries in developing curriculum programs that will train the future workforce,” Friday said. “Their goal and ours is to keep our young talent here. And the more that we expose them, even from eighth grade to high school, then they're less likely to look elsewhere when they make their career decision."

Friday called having partners in the community to team up with to hold events like the hiring expo “invaluable.” She called the event itself “vital” due to how it can help the economy. 

“So many communities around us are struggling and don't have the industrial infrastructure, commercial retail or community services that we have here,” Friday said. “Just bringing them together and being able to expose not only job seekers, but students, people in the community and others outside of the community is big. Even the story that Rochelle is hiring is getting out to Rockford and Aurora and those places that we've really been targeting to say that there's good employment opportunities in Rochelle. We're drawing that traffic.”