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Virtual job fair offers workers, employers chance to connect on Web

The right match between local employers and job seekers will be only a click away next week, when Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services hosts the region's first virtual job fair.

It's an innovative attempt at using the Internet to help employers and workers connect with each other, said Cathy Baumgartner, training and development coordinator for the 11-county agency.

"We've had a lot of excitement about it. We're excited to offer it," she said.

The online job fair at opens at 8 a.m. Monday and ends at midnight Friday.

For those five days, job seekers will be able to go online 24 hours a day, browse the virtual booths of at least two dozen area employers, and submit an electronic resume for any jobs in which they're interested.

In turn, employers who participate can be assured of exposure to as many as 600 potential applicants for jobs that need filling.

"We think it's a great new way for people to expand on the traditional job search opportunities. We hope that there's lots and lots of people who check it out," said Jean Spaulding, assistant director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, which is a partner organization for the job fair.

Businesses and workers in Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker and Renville counties are being targeted for the event -- but there have been inquiries from farther away as well, Baumgartner said.

"We've had a lot of interest from businesses further west and further east," she said.

Baumgartner said the concept of a virtual job fair was imported from Florida, where it was introduced with some success.

"You've got to try new things," she said. "It's just another way to make the match."

Given the high cost of gas and the time crunch that many workers and employers are increasingly up against, the virtual job fair is a chance for both sides to connect cheaply and efficiently.

The cost is low -- $150 for employers and free for job seekers.

With 24-hour access from anywhere that's connected to cyberspace, it's convenient for people who are searching for a job, Baumgartner said.

"Any time that they have available, either at home or someplace where they have the Internet, they'll be able to access it," she said. "It saves them gas money. It saves them time off work."

Confidentiality can sometimes be an issue when people are searching for a new job, Spaulding said.

A virtual setting helps ensure that the search can be conducted in privacy, she said. "The confidentiality factor will maybe increase the number of professionals who are submitting their resumes."

Job seekers will have the option of submitting a resume only to certain companies they're interested in, or having it shared with all the businesses that have signed up for the job fair.

From the employer's point of view, a virtual job fair is a way for employers to reach a wider pool of job applicants without spending large amounts of time and money, Baumgartner said. "All the businesses are seemingly doing more with less."

Employers who register for the virtual job fair can post as many job listings as they want. They'll be able to keep track of how many times their virtual booth is visited and receive resumes that are submitted electronically.

At the end of the event, they'll also receive copies of all the resumes from job seekers who've elected to have their information shared.

Spaulding said the reach of the Internet offers "great exposure" to employers and workers alike.

"We felt it was a unique concept," she said. "It's free, it's confidential and it's easy. We sure want people to check it out."