Career fair hopes to increase diversity and close job gap

- A number of high profile Minnesota companies Tuesday opened their doors to try and hire more people of color. It’s a job fair that's all about leveling the playing field.

Shaquille Lee, a recent graduate with an MBA, is a man on a mission to find a job at the People of Color Career Fair at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

"I've talked to about six to ten employers so far,” said Lee. “I'm looking to talk to about five more and just keep the ball going here." 

He's a numbers man looking for a company who needs a business analyst.

“I just received my MBA from the University of Concordia and I'm just looking to continue my technical skills and software skills in private industry," said Lee. 

The most recent Minnesota data shows just a three percent unemployment rate for whites, but the rate for blacks is three times higher at nearly nine percent.

"And so, what we're doing here is making sure that we are doing a little bit of matchmaking,” said Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, People of Color Job Fair Founder. “And we want to make sure that we are connecting awesome professionals of color to our amazing Minnesota employers who have said, 'Listen, we did get it. We’ve got to fix this problem. We want more diversity in our workforce.’” 

Sina Pleggenkuhle found her connection at this same job fair last spring. The Ordway Theater hired her as group saleswoman. She's now back recruiting more applicants of color to consider working for the Ordway.

"I've been there before,” said Pleggenkuhle. “But the most important thing is to remain positive, confident, know what you're looking for and don't be scared to give it a try." 

Job candidates walked away with a fresh portrait for their resumes and employers walked away with a fresh set of applicants.

"Last year is what we are able to say is that we had over a hundred resumes,” said Lezlie Taylor, Thrivent Financial Director of Diversity and Inclusion. “Half of those turned into interviews, and roughly say maybe three to five of those turned into actual hires.  And we're looking to improve upon that number." 

Lee just hopes one of them could be him.

"It's always nice to have hope,” said Lee. “Always nice to see employers out here looking to diversify their work groups and that's all we ask for." 

The next People of Color Career Fair is scheduled for April.

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