LINTHICUM -- Bruce Kautz, laid off from Westinghouse Electric Co. in 1991, walked into the job fair at the Professional Outplacement Assistance Center here yesterday -- only to see many of the same recruiters who've been taking his resumes at dozens of other job fairs.
But the cherubic-looking 60-year-old quality engineer smiled and shook hands with the recruiters anyway, hoping this time one would have an opening for him.
The Northeast Baltimore resident, who figures he's been to 50 job fairs in three years, doesn't understand why it is so hard for him to find a job. "Some people tell me I am overqualified," he said. "Maybe my age has something to do with it. . . . But maybe it is my demean or."
The years of rejection "make you feel badly," he said.
Down the hall, Margie Cobb, who was laid off from Fidelity & Deposit Co. in July, was excited.
One recruiter had exclaimed, "We need you right now!" when the Linthicum woman spoke of her experience running computer systems, and scheduled a job interview for early next week.
"I'm lucky. I have technical skills" that are in demand these days, she said. "I'm optimistic. It is just a matter of time," she said of her job prospects.
Hope mixed with despair all day as more than 900 job-seeking Maryland managers and professionals gathered to talk with 48 employers at the state center's second annual professional job fair.
Stephen Gallison, director of the Professional Outplacement Assistance Center, said that although the state's unemployment rate is comparatively low at 5.5 percent -- below the national rate of 6.1 percent -- the number of laid-off professionals needing his help keeps growing.
"It just doesn't stop," he said.
Mergers, consolidations and layoffs -- especially of managers -- continue despite the economic recovery, he said.
"We've been here 18 months, and we are seeing people here who are repeaters" -- people who were laid off two years ago, then took a temporary assignment or lost an other job, and are out looking for work again, he said.
In fact, a federal analysis of the last recession issued on Wednesday found that more white-collar workers were laid off in the early 1990s than any other kind of worker.
And although blue-collar workers had a tougher time finding new jobs, the statistics for professionals were grim: 30 percent of those laid off between 1991 and 1993 were still unemployed in early 1994.
Those having the most trouble finding new work are over the age of 54.
And the news was not all good even for those who found work, as almost half had taken a cut in pay.
Employers at the job fair said that while they would consider hiring some of the applicants they met yesterday, they saw many people for whom they have no jobs -- especially laid-off executives and managers.
Chris Pedzich, a staffing representative for Greenbelt-based Decision Systems Technologies Inc., wants to hire up to 150 computer programmers and technicians.
While his openings are almost entirely technical, most of the people he met yesterday were middle managers without strong technical skills, and used to receiving hefty salaries.
"Right now, we are looking for Indians, not chiefs," and are offering salaries below what the managers are used to.
He said he may consider hiring some former managers who have been taking computer classes. But the change in pay and status "is a hard pill for them to swallow."
Debbie Spitler, a recruiter for Snelling Personnel Services, said her Maryland offices have openings for salespeople, technicians and physical therapists.
While she has no openings for managers, she has lots of jobs paying anywhere from $15,000 to $21,000 a year for people with good secretarial skills.
Mike Harding, a former purchasing agent and bread salesman, said most of the openings he saw yesterday required computer skills he doesn't possess.
L But, he said, "I put a couple resumes in. Everything helps."
Mr. Harding, who has been looking for work for about five weeks, said he is hopeful of finding a job, but also is worried about the low salaries being offered.
The federal statistics that indicate there are lots of new jobs are somewhat misleading, as there seem to be more people unemployed than the low official rate would indicate.
And the new jobs being created don't really replace the old, high-paying and high-benefit jobs, he said.
"The jobs that are being created are lower pay," he said.
Mr. Harding said he wants to find a stable job to work for the next 20 years, but realizes he may have to settle for temporary jobs.
"It is early in the game. I am optimistic," he said. "I'm not desperate. Yet."