More than 1,000 people brought their resumes to the Howard County Job Fair Friday, but many -- including some highly qualified candidates -- said that even at the fair they were having a hard time finding well-paid employment in their fields.
And some who have been unemployed for more than a year fear that employers are passing them over for younger, less-qualified applicants willing to work for less money.
"The companies think the younger and the cheaper you can get them is better," said Anna Brus, 30, who has been looking for a customer service job since she was laid off from a sales job at The Mall in Columbia in August 1993.
Sponsored by the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED) and the Howard County Job Service Employer Committee, the event was intended to match unemployed people in Howard County with jobs.
The 42 employers at the fair included several temporary employment agencies, Elkridge National Bank, Ford Motor Credit Co., Mighty Maids cleaning service, Pizza Hut of Maryland and United Parcel Service.
The fair drew more older workers than recent college or high school graduates. Many were looking for administrative or technical jobs only to find employers offering temporary, clerical or sales clerk positions.
Even so, Wilie Jones, job service supervisor for DEED, said he was pleased with the number of employers and job seekers who attended.
"I know we have enough employers here," he said. "I don't know about enough jobs for everyone."
As of February, the unemployment rate in Howard County was 3.3 percent, the second lowest unemployment rate in the state.
But people looking for well-paid positions in specialized areas still say they are having trouble finding jobs.
Engineers at Friday's event said that industry has changed and that skills in demand 20 years ago are no longer valued.
John M. Ryan, 49, of Severn has a master's degree in electrical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Ryan worked for S3 Technologies, a diversified high-technology company in Columbia, for 20 years until his job as a quality assurance manager was eliminated in January 1994.
Mr. Ryan has a part-time job teaching at Capitol College in Laurel but is looking for full-time employment.
"Last year I sent out several resumes each week and got exactly three interviews," he said. "The jobs aren't out there simply because of automation. The computers are putting people out of work."
Other people said employers discriminate against older applicants.
Bill Freeman, 52, of Finksburg had worked in accounting and production planning for Continental Can Co. in Baltimore for 25 years until he was laid off in 1989.
"It's naturally difficult to adjust to not being needed or wanted in the field you were trained in," he said. "When you are 50 plus, it is more difficult."
Some older job seekers said they were not pleased with the type of jobs offered at the fair. Many people looking for higher level or technical jobs were reluctant to talk about their job search.
One middle-aged man, dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase, scowled as he left.
"It's just bottom pickers in there," he said to people entering.
Employers collected plenty of resumes and applications, but they also said that some of the applicants' expectations were too high.
The job market is too tight for applicants to be very picky, said Michelle Pyles, a recruiter for A. E. Broadhurst Corp., a Columbia company that places people with engineering and technical skills in temporary jobs.
"It's really sad," she said. "All of the applicants are degreed people who have gotten laid off."
Ms. Pyles said applicants want higher pay and better positions than most companies offer.
"I see people who are out of work and I know they need the money, but they say they need $25 an hour," she said.
"And I have employers on the other end of the phone that say they can't afford to pay that much, even if the people have tons of experience."
Applicants need to be flexible about the type of jobs they accept, said Dave Weiland, a personnel manager for Remco, a chain of rent-to-own appliance stores.
Mr. Weiland said he had been hoping to hire 20 to 30 people to work as sales representatives at seven Remco stores opening in the Baltimore-Washington area.
"Some people aren't flexible, and they don't want the job," he said. "To me that just means that they don't want to work badly enough."
Of the 50 people that applied Friday to work at Remco stores, Mr. Weiland said he expected to hire five or six.
A few employers said they had trouble finding people at the job fair with the right skills.
Edward Lough, Rockville branch manager for Americom, a cellular products company, said he was looking for eight people with college degrees and one or two years of sales experience.
"We only have a handful of resumes that fit our model," he said. "In the group that is here today, they don't have the sales experience that we need."