Scott Tollett
Scott Tollett

Bristol Tennessee job fair 2012

by Lewis Loflin

On December 12, 2012 Bristol Tennessee held a job fair at 640 State Street. I attended the job fair that morning and here is what I found that everybody should consider when applying for a new job in this area. What follows is a rundown of the employers at the booths that day.

Thanks to Mr. Allen Hurley, Vision LLC president and owner of the facility. It's a beautifully restored old building great for any number of events. Their website is at www.foundationeventfacility.com and has "six different venues that can accommodate parties from 15 to 400 guests."

The job fair featured two talks by Scott Tollett, a Houston-based motivational speaker and career-development expert. Tollett gave presentations at 10:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. I watched the one at 10:30 and stopped listening after 10 minutes when he never got to the point. And no I didn't buy his book. His website is at www.scotttollett.com.

I guess when we break the attendance down it was really about one-fourth colleges and educational institutions trying to lure in students, while the rest were various local businesses from across the spectrum. All of the businesses except one were from the Tennessee side of the state line. So let's look at the only Virginia business that showed up there.

Shearer's Foods is a snack food manufacturer that operates what I call a resume collecting operation. The problem is with this particular company is they are number three in the same location over the last 10 years. It used to be called Moore's potato chips, then it was sold out something called Wise food company, it's Shearer's foods today.

What do I mean by resume collector? They are constantly hiring for every position in the plant which tells me two things, either the company is changing hands again and presenting a new collection of employees so the new firm can fire and displace present workers, or they are having a lot of employee problems and just keep having to hire new people. I just don't know, but this particular snack food business in Bristol, Virginia has a very poor record of constantly changing ownership and firing and hiring new people every few years.

This is just my opinion, but I wouldn't waste my time applying there. One must go to their website at www.shearers.com to apply. Good luck.

Another company present at the job fair was Domtar Paper Company LLC of Kingsport. Their representatives were very upbeat and claimed they had a number of positions open for all kinds of people. One can apply at the Tennessee Career Center or online at www.domtar.com. They are located at the former Mead Paper complex.

One prominent or perhaps notorious company at the job fair was Eastman Chemical. A few years ago they promised to be hiring 2000 new workers and received millions in incentives from Sullivan County for the promise of more jobs. What we got instead were hundreds of new layoffs. For the average person Eastman is a waste of time. See more: Eastman Layoffs

Bristol Tennessee Electric (BTES) was present with a display of their new solid-state electric meters. They have a lineman position and an electrical engineering position open.

The Bell Helicopter booth generated by far the most interest and had the longest line, in fact the only long line at the entire job fair. To quote their literature,

"Our Bell Helicopter Service Facility, located in Piney Flats, Tennessee is fully equipped to overhaul components using only genuine Bell parts. Combining the latest tooling and engineering practices, our technicians are dedicated to overhauling your components to the highest quality standards without compromising customer service and satisfaction. Included among our expanded repair capabilities are drive shaft balancing and in-house non-destructive testing services, such as liquid penetrant, magnetic particle and ultrasonic inspection."

Their website is at www.bellhelicopter.com. This is another company that's trying to constantly hire people. The reason is their jobs are very highly specialized and it's difficult for them to find qualified people at the pay scales they want to offer. The other problem is to me is that East Tennessee is isolated from where one would expect to find high technology workers. Companies locate in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia merely to take advantage of cheap labor.

This is something that companies that locate here have to realize that cheap labor isn't everything. We have lots of people looking for jobs, but most are essentially unskilled or have the wrong skill sets. The Christian science Monitor notes the following,

"Of the top 10 hardest-to-fill positions in the US, only three - engineers, nurses, and teachers - require university degrees. The other seven are: skilled trades, IT staff, sales representatives, accounting and finance staff, drivers, mechanics, and machinists.

The reasons employers cannot fill these positions are lack of experience, candidates asking for more money than they can afford (or willing) to pay, and lack of talent and training."

Ref. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2012/0718/Who-s-looking-to-hire-Top-10-hard-to-fill-jobs-hold-surprising-lessons.

The problem in this region, and I daresay much of the country, is our education system is utterly determined to keep those entering skilled vocational trades from receiving a better academic background in science, math, etc. As a vocational instructor myself I have fought this problem for years only to be stonewalled time after time by the so-called education professionals.

Projected growth through 2020
Projected growth through 2020.

Because of the interlocking cultural and political problems this region is predicted to have among the slowest growth in the nation in coming years. In fact Tr-Cities Virginia-Tennessee will have the slowest growth in both states.

And it's companies such as Bell Helicopter that suffer. And it isn't just Bell Helicopter it's a number of what manufacturers we have left in the area face the same problem.

The fact is the large number of manufacturing jobs will continue to decline as shown by the recent loss of 300 jobs in nearby Smith County Virginia in December 2012. Manufacturing is coming back, but will require far fewer, but more skilled workers. Sorry folks the day of putting the screw on the widget is over with. One is going to have to have a knowledge of math, of computer programming, and yes being able to read and write in English along with "hands on" skills.

The education professionals, most of them hostile to private industry and manufacturing type vocational jobs, are oriented towards pushing students, in many cases unqualified, into seeking four-year degrees. Recent studies printed in The New York Times have shown that particularly liberal arts degrees are worthless. We have a number of colleges and in this area, but the vast majority of coursework is oriented towards liberal arts degrees and are worthless in the real world. Most of their graduates flee the region.

It's also troubling this stigma with the general public that working with one's hands and actually creating or building something in the real world is seen as below their status.

The next company I talked to was Eastman Credit Union. The two ladies representing Eastman did a superb job for their company. The company has several openings for cashiers which prompted me to ask do people really still higher cashiers with all the ATM machines? They said, "Our customers want a more personal service and that is what we offer them." I believe them.

Hot sauce from Friendship Ford
Hot sauce from Friendship Ford

All of the booths handed out various souvenirs. Friendship Ford our local had the most interesting with a bottle of hot sauce. They were hiring for several sales/service positions and are a great company. Their website is at www.friendshipauto.com.

Now we come to our notorious call center industry. At the job fair Sprint, ACT, and US Solutions Group were all represented. Why do I call them notorious? Because they operate in a constant hire-fire business model.

Both Sprint and US Solutions Group recently jumped the Virginia Tennessee state line to collect millions in incentives. Sprint dumped Bristol Virginia to move to Sullivan County Tennessee to a new facility paid for essentially by Tennessee taxpayers. US Solutions Group in 2012 also jumped the state line to Bristol Tennessee firing and displacing their workers in Bristol Virginia and Abingdon. Between these two companies they have displaced perhaps 1000 workers.

Of course economic development planners in East Tennessee are proclaiming these as "new jobs" when in fact they are simply old jobs that in one case simply crossed the street. This has become a game with these call centers all through the region. Constantly jumping from one state or location to another, collecting millions in incentives, then leaving (or changing ownership) after a few years to collect more incentives and firing their workers. This enables them to cut benefits and cut wages with the help of the taxpayers.

This is part of a job destructive trend that has gripped the whole country. With local governments handing out in some cases tens of millions of dollars in incentives ($80 billion a year) this enables one company to artificially underbid the next company driving down wages for everyone. The government has taken a direct partnership role in this destructive process of American labor. In Tri-Cities Bristol Virginia Tennessee one can't tell where the Chamber of Commerce ends and the city government begins. So not only does the region suffer mass poverty and low wages the typical worker is at odds with a labor hostile coalition of government and business.

Typical is one friend who I will call Kate. She just got her four-year degree from a local college only to find out the only job she can get was her old minimum-wage job back at Sears. She was very happy to get nine dollars an hour at a local call center. What she did was waste four years of her life at East Tennessee State University to get a low-paying job she could've got out of high school. This is too often the fate of most of our college graduates in this region.

When I talked to the representatives of all three of these call center companies all informed me that unless one has experience they won't even take an application. Of course Kate had customer service experience from Sears, so they hired her. US Solutions Group for instance pays only eight dollars an hour up in Abingdon while inhabiting a government subsidized building.

So the simple fact is that unless one has prior experience they simply won't get a job at these call center companies. That shouldn't be too hard considering the number of hire and fire employees this industry generates. Hey if you don't like the job, wait a while they'll dislocate you and you can start at the next company down the road at minimum wage and no benefits.

Local press reports claim Sprint is paying $12 an hour to start, that is not what I was told. Why would they jump the state line to give their employees a raise? Perhaps because the labor is more limited by higher standards they are demanding some workers are finally getting a break? They claimed they rehired most of their fired Bristol Virginia workforce, why didn't they pay $12 an hour then? Guess we can take their word for it. By the way when I asked I was told it was a firing offence to discuss salaries outside the company. Somehow I don't believe they are paying $12 an hour, why would they? I'd really like to believe it and I'll tell Kate to check out Sprint.

The Honey Do Service
The Honey Do Service Company

Another company there that I thought was a lot of fun was The Honey Do Service. As the name implies they are a professional handyman service. According to their representatives they set very high standards to protect the name of their company. One can visit them online at www.honeydoservice.net or call 276-642-0365.

The only government organization there hunting for employees was the Bristol Tennessee Police Department. They had two openings for patrol officers. What is interesting is they help me dispel the myth that I've suspected for some time. Many people I know will spend a lot of time and money to get a criminal justice degree at our local colleges, but the fact is that will do you no good at being hired as a police officer according to the representatives of the Bristol Tennessee Police Department I talked to.

While a degree might help one in a promotion later on it makes little to no difference in getting hired. So that's something to note for the job applicant that believes getting an essentially worthless degree will get them a job. Do note that if you do get on with the police department and this is true for most of them, they will require you for promotion etc. later on to take college classes.

Ladies from the Bristol Public Library
Ladies from the Bristol Public Library

Finally the best education opportunity at no cost is the Adult Education Program at the Bristol Public Library. They offer free GED classes in addition to computer class in Windows XP, Windows 7, key boarding, Word, Excel, etc. This is great group of volunteers ready to help those willing to put in some effort.