Aubrina Foster waited seven years for this, so excuse her for impatience. That’s how long she’s been out of work.
The 37-year-old swayed anxiously in a black chair as the seat across from her stayed empty.
“I’m waiting on them,” Foster said laughing. “I’m early. They are late. I should take their job, right?”
Foster, along with almost 150 unemployed adults and area veterans, came to Florida Gulf Coast University on Monday for the Southwest Florida Regional Intern Recruitment Job Fair.
A partnership between Southwest Florida Works and the Alliance of Educational Leaders organized the job fair setting in the Student Union Ballroom, where 25 Southwest Florida companies interviewed candidates for paid internships. To be eligible for an internship, interviewees had to be previously enrolled in training programs at local colleges like Edison State College, Southwest Florida College and FGCU, funded through Southwest Florida Works.
Southwest Florida Works pays for the internships, through federal funding, at rates established by each individual company.
One- to 2-year programs train adult students in fields like finance, nursing and culinary arts to acquire skills necessary to get a job in the crowded Southwest Florida job market. The Naples-Marco Island market had an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent at the end of Dec. 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. Cape Coral-Fort Myers had an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent in Dec. 2011, higher than the 9.7 percent rate for Florida as a whole.
Foster hasn’t worked in seven years.
The owner of a bachelor’s degree in business management and an associate degree in medical administration, Foster has no work experience in either field. Before she was laid off, she drove busses for Lee County.
Out of work, Foster did community service for a few years, until she started a training program with Southwest Florida Works.
Now, Foster feels ready to start a career, albeit a delayed one.
“I love to talk,” Foster said. “I love people. I was graded in school as an extrovert. I’m confident. I’m the only one I know here with four interviews. For most jobs, it doesn’t matter how old you are. As long as you can handle stress, you are all right.”
As a child, Tonya Nyette, another job candidate, wanted to be a medical assistant, but she ended up working at Mrs. Appleton’s Family Buffet.
She had a child after she graduated high school, which forced her away from education — her dream. She said she was unprepared for the harsh reality of the work world.
Years of restaurant hopping and scraping by on welfare, a lost internship opportunity, and a speech by President Barack Obama, pushed the 41-year-old Nyette back on the path to her dream. A 2008 speech by Obama about sending moms back to work inspired Nyette to return to school.
She reached out to Southwest Florida Works, which paid for her education at the Horizon Healthcare Institute, where she studied as a medical assistant.
She said the school promised her an internship but she never got one.
Without any real experience, Nyette had to choose a job over a career, so she swipes student IDs at an FGCU dining hall. Her fiancé bakes pizzas and sautés pasta at the dining hall, but the couple still depends on welfare.
Nyette had interviews scheduled with three medical companies at the internship job fair.
“I hope to be a medical assistant one day because it’s what I’ve always wanted,” Nyette said. “I want to help sick people. My school (Horizon) didn’t give me a chance to get experience so this is my opportunity. I’m scared and nervous. Interviews always scare me. But I’m confident I will get something.”
Theresa Hansen represented HarborChase of Naples, an assistant living and nursing facility, at the internship job fair.
Hansen dismisses inexperience, lengthy hiatuses and age as deterrents in finding a job and hiring a qualified candidate.
In fact, she welcomes these people.
“It doesn’t concern me that they haven’t been working,” Hansen said. “Maybe they just haven’t connected with someone and the competition is so great. As long as they are personable and smile, they are great to have. Everyone deserves an opportunity.”