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Corrections’ first virtual job fair attracts 338 individuals to help fill vital needs across the state

September 2, 2020

By Janelle Guthrie

DOC Communications

(Tim Kelly, DOC Communications)

The Washington State Department of Corrections recently took its talent acquisition efforts online as the department worked to fill more than 100 vital correctional officer, healthcare and other jobs at facilities statewide.

The Department held its first virtual job fair on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. A total of 600 jobseekers registered for the event and 388 actively participated. Once jobseekers registered, they were greeted with videos from Secretary Stephen Sinclair and Dr. Karen Johnson, Corrections’ equity and inclusion administrator, who leads the talent acquisition team.

The virtual job fair software allowed individuals to register ahead of time, upload resumes and populate profiles—which helped Corrections’ talent acquisition team connect more quickly.

“One of the best things was having a jobseeker’s information on the screen while you communicated with them,” said Talent Acquisition Advisor Lolo Arevalo. “Standard information like interest, background, education were all on the screen, whereas it would be much harder to quickly access all that in a real job fair while talking. Since it was visual and on the screen while you were chatting, it was extremely helpful and allowed a more succinct conversation.”

The job fair also allowed people to visit a variety of virtual booths featuring career fields with current openings:

  • Correctional Industries;
  • Correctional officers;
  • Food service;
  • Healthcare/Nursing;
  • Information technology; and
  • Human resources and administrative roles.

If jobseekers preferred a geographic approach, they could also visit booths based in locations, such as Eastern Washington, Olympic Peninsula and Snohomish County. Once they clicked through to a booth, people could chat with talent acquisition specialists to learn more about specific jobs. The team estimates roughly 200 people engaged in chats and 64% of those interactions resulted in positive steps forward, including learning more about the agency or applying for jobs.

While the experience was new for this team, they said they felt fortunate to have the opportunity to connect with people. Once they got over some of the technical glitches, the team said they found some advantages to interacting in a virtual environment vs. in-person at a job fair.

Corrections partnered with the Employment Security Department (ESD) to pilot the virtual job fair, giving Corrections’ talent acquisition team the opportunity to test the innovative approach at no cost and with guidance from Employment Security staff.

The uncertainty of COVID-19 has pushed government and other industries into using these new tools to fill positions they otherwise might not be able to fill due to the suspension of in-person job fairs. Thankfully, Corrections’ talent acquisition team consists of a wide variety of recruiting professionals, who draw experience from their work in public, private, and military recruiting. One of those team members is Talent Acquisition Coordinator, Kyle Manglona, formerly a recruiter with Alaska Airlines.

“The movement toward utilizing virtual meeting spaces is growing within the talent acquisition industry,” Manglona said. “Private industries (Amazon, Starbucks and Boeing) have been using this software for some time. The situation with COVID-19 has made it a necessity for everyone. As we move forward, the new normal will certainly include more virtual components. In-person job fairs are important and useful, so I’d say we are simply adding more tools to our belt to stay competitive in the job market.”

The new technology allowed candidates to attend the job fair from the convenience of their homes, even on a mobile phone, and it reduced costs for the agency because the team didn’t have to “staff” physical booths. It also provided a more equitable and unbiased hiring process because using a text-only virtual event, like the one Corrections utilized, means talent professionals can’t see a candidate’s physical appearance, allowing the merits of their experience, education, skills, and communication style to shine through.

While the virtual experience does result in a certain loss of connection—and definitely reduces the talent acquisition team’s ability to lure new recruits with Corrections’ swag—the team said a big benefit was the ability to introduce people to the many career paths at Corrections.

Many candidates didn’t know of job opportunities with Corrections outside of correctional officers, the team observed.

“Sharing with candidates the many possibilities of career paths at Corrections is certainly special,” said Manglona.

Dr. Johnson agreed.

“Attracting top talent is how we are improving public safety by positively changing lives,” she said.

All positions advertised included generous benefits like health insurance, paid holidays & leave, retirement, and tuition assistance. Some also offer flexible schedules, mobile work and more.

Even if jobseekers missed the virtual job fair, there are still opportunities to explore careers at Corrections by visiting the “Job Opportunities” page.

Moving forward, the talent acquisition team is working on owning its own virtual career fair platform, and expects to be live sometime in fall 2020.