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Thursday, June 21, 2012 06:29 am

Help wanted

Goodwill is hiring like crazy

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Latonya Buchanan was one of dozens who found work last week at a Goodwill job fair.
PHOTO BY BRUCE RUSHTON

Prospects for paychecks drew hundreds of people to a Land of Lincoln Goodwill job fair last week.

The charity is hiring in a big way. Within the first five hours, 42 of more than 250 applicants had received conditional employment offers, pending drug tests and reference checks.

“The interview went great,” said Latonya Buchanan. “When they tell you to go sit over there, you know there’s going to be something good. Everybody’s trying to get a job. The economy is messed up right now. It’s hard.”

Buchanan spent four hours at the job fair, most of it waiting around. It was time well spent. After two jobless years, Buchanan got an offer to work as a cashier and sorter, which involves getting donated goods ready for sale. She’ll earn $9.25 an hour. It may not be much money, but she’ll get health insurance and other benefits, including vacation, after 90 days, if she lasts.

“It really is hard work,” says Sharon Durbin, president and CEO of Land of Lincoln Goodwill. “It’s dirty and it’s physically demanding. You’re on your feet all day. We’ve had a lot of people say they’re going to lunch and never come back.”

Nonetheless, waits of 90 minutes for a 15-minute interview at the agency’s headquarters on Outer Park Drive were common during the two-day fair last Friday and Saturday, which wasn’t necessarily surprising, given an unemployment rate of nearly 7 percent in Sangamon County.

“The best they’re offering is a dollar over minimum wage, and you see how many people are here,” said Arthur Spradlin, a licensed practical nurse who lost his job four months ago. “This place is packed.”

Spradlin said he would take any job offered. Open positions included jobs as truck drivers, custodians and several that involved moving and sorting donated goods. Consider the requirements to be a hard goods processor in a warehouse:

“Must be able to process a waist-deep cart in 30 minutes or less. Hot working environment in summer, cold in winter. Lifting boxes and bags up to 50 pounds. Working around dirt/dust, pet hair and mold.”

Bad as it may sound, the jobs have futures. Since Durbin was hired in 2006, three employees who started out with barely above minimum wage pay have become managers by proving their talents and work ethic.

“The sky’s the limit,” Durbin said.

The number of applicants during the first four hours of the two-day fair surpassed the number who applied for jobs during a similar event last year that drew 200 people. That Goodwill is holding job fairs and hiring so many people is a reflection of the charity’s phenomenal growth.

When Durbin arrived at Goodwill, the charity had no human resources department. With just 25 full-time employees, there was no need. The agency relied on temporary workers to staff stores.

Today, Goodwill employs 351 people, including 268 full-time workers. The agency is adding a second shift at an east side warehouse where donated goods are stored. A new retail store opened this year in Danville. Taylorville and Litchfield may be next and expansions of several existing stores are planned. Annual revenue has more than doubled from $5 million six years ago to a projected $12 million this year.

“It’s just been busy,” Durbin says.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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