After the final bell of the day rang Monday, Waterloo High School’s cafeteria was full of students and businesses, each set up at their own decorated tables, looking to find young employees.
Bob Lohman, WHS guidance counselor, came up with the idea to host a part-time job fair at the school after he noticed an increasing number of help wanted ads cropping up in the area.
“The last few months or so, like everybody else, (I’ve been) seeing all the help wanted signs,” Lohman said. “We’ll sometimes have businesses reach out to us and say, ‘Will you advertise that we’re looking to hire?’ and so we’ll put it in our announcements. I just thought maybe we would take it a step further and invite the businesses to come here one day after school and maybe before the kids leave they could swing by, pick up and fill out an application.”
It wasn’t until Lohman attended a Monroe County startUP class that he acted on his idea.
“I was listening to one of their presentations and they kind of inspired me to go from thinking about it to doing something about it. After that, I got permission from (WHS Principal Lori Costello) and just started reaching out,” Lohman said.
From the beginning, it was clear the job fair was something the community wanted. In one day alone, a Facebook post Lohman made about the event saw over 500 shares, and the guidance department was fielding calls from schools interested in setting up something like it in their own communities.
“It’s not just about helping our students find jobs, but really more about helping out the community,” Lohman remarked.
Over 20 employers met with students Monday from all different industries, including food service, retail and even senior living, as Oak Hill was looking for some student employees.
Some WHS students who are already employed at the businesses were helping recruit their peers. This included Waterloo Country Club employee Henry Huels and Camp Wartburg’s Braden Mazdra and Larkin Nottmeier.
Nottmeier said Camp Wartburg received two applications at the fair, plus several other students expressed interest.
“I hope we’ll get some people applying for the summer program and then some junior counselors and stuff like that coming out and volunteering for our summer programs,” Nottmeier said.
Lohman said while the fair was specifically for part-time jobs, there is no telling how they might jumpstart the students’ futures.
“I’ve been advertising it as a part-time job fair with the knowledge that the people who are going to be applying are high school students who will be working while in high school, but who knows what it could lead to. It’s just an avenue looking to connect people looking to hire with people looking for a job.”
One of the most rewarding parts of hosting the fair, Lohman said, was giving students a taste of normalcy with in-person networking.
“Technology is wonderful, but there’s something about face-to-face … and that’s obviously something the whole world has been missing here in the last 1.5 years or so,” he said. “I think it makes it more real (and) I think it’s important for people to know how to communicate face-to-face instead of through a screen. So, if this is an opportunity with the businesses right here and the kids right here, accessibility is even better than the accessibility online because it’s right in front of them.”
Lohman, the students and employers are not the only ones credited with the success of the fair, though. Lohman had enlisted help from the Waterloo FFA.
“They’re such a wonderful group of kids who say ‘Tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it,’ so it’s been neat to see them get involved in it,” Lohman said.
This, he said, made it so the event was student-centered, from its inception to clean-up on Monday.
“I was motivated by high school students and I’m relying on high school students to set it up, (along with) their ag advisers,” he said. “Hopefully students can get some employment starting up before the holidays. So, a lot of student-focused and student-inspired things are coming from this, which is really cool.”