City plays matchmaker with youths, jobs; 250 attend job fair, query 27 companies, organizations about work


Lamar Wooten, 17, took the morning off from school, dressed in his Sunday best -- a tie and a crisp white shirt -- to show his freshly pressed resume to prospective employers at yesterday's summer jobs fair.

A senior at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, Wooten was one of 250 young people intent on interviewing with 27 potential employers yesterday at the city-sponsored YouthWorks 2000.

One was United Parcel Service, which seemed to be the most popular employer -- for males, anyway.

From the start, it was clear this fair was not for fun, but an intense search for summer jobs for city residents between ages 17 and 21. Wooten and his peers there had heard about the program through their schools or ads. All underwent several hours of "job readiness" training -- courtesy of the city and nonprofit groups -- to prepare them for the event inside the War Memorial Building.

Wooten's job at McDonald's and his participation in the Goodnow Police Athletic League center and in his school's gospel choir were noted on his resume. He said he felt better prepared since learning a few lessons, which he recited: "Keep eye contact, ask pertinent questions, and pay attention to grooming, like wear a tie and a belt."

At the booths, the young people came face-to-face with the employers, including major ones such as Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Pepsi-Cola Co., Outward Bound, St. Joseph Medical Center, Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., MCI WorldCom and the Baltimore Country Club.

One interviewer from Sodexho-Marriott food service at the National Aquarium, Monica Lindsay, said she asked the young people, "Are you good with the public?" Then, she said, "I tell them this could be a steppingstone."

For their part, the companies and government agencies at the tables had agreed to have at least 10 jobs available and to make a decision within a week. Many jobs, such as Census 2000 workers, pay well above the $5.25 minimum wage.

"This is a first for us," said Pat Waddell of the city's Office of Employment Development. "We shifted gears [from federally funded summer jobs] to strong employer involvement. If I were a teen, I'd be totally jazzed about the opportunities."

Karen Sitnick, director of the city agency, and Waddell explained that this summer will be the first time in 25 years that federal funds will not support summer jobs for disadvantaged youths.

Even in this booming, high-employment economy, Waddell said, "every major city will be grappling with the same issue," referring to employment for low-income and minority youths.

Yesterday's job fair was one step toward the city's goal of finding jobs for more than 4,000 young people this summer.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley stopped to shake hands with and encourage those waiting for interviews, telling one glum girl, "Cheer up, it's not that bad!"

O'Malley recalled his first job, in a hot warehouse packing dental supplies in boxes. "That convinced me to be a lawyer," he said.

In another corner at midmorning, Randel Marvel of General Cinema said, "They do a good job screening for us. Out of the six I interviewed, I'd probably hire all six." His concern was how the teens would get home late at night after work.

Myron Knight, 20, and Dwayne Eades, 17, said they hoped to work for UPS as part-time loaders for $8.50 an hour. The job requires handling packages that weigh up to 70 pounds.

Knight said he was used to carrying his younger sister, who uses a wheelchair after an accidental shooting, up and down stairs.

Eades, in a Junior ROTC uniform, said he'd like the 5 p.m.-to-10 p.m. shift because, he said, "I could do all my activities and still make it to work on time."

For Wooten, Knight and Eades, the day ended well -- with an invitation to visit the UPS office and apply in person.

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