After a Forbes.com article ranked Grand Rapids as the second-worst economically friendly city for African-Americans last year, Jonathan Jelks and Alvin Hills IV decided something had to be done.
The Grand Rapids duo got busy, working to create a series of job fairs tailored to introduce minorities and millennials to high-growth industries that will anchor the future of Michigan’s economy.
In July, they hosted the Power Up Technology Fair showcasing local technology companies and nonprofits. This week they’ll host the second job fair in the series, the “Think Green” Jobs and Sustainability Career Fair, which will focus on jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities within the Green Economy.
“We’re hoping this will help get people out to interact with some of these cool companies in the city,” Jelks said.
“Grand Rapids has a robust green and blue sector, and we have some innovative companies. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for people to connect with these employers, and also to find the education they need to stay ahead.”
The job fair is free and open to all community members, and will be held 6-8 p.m., Wednesday, March 16, in the gymnasium at Gerald R. Ford Academic Center.
Following the job fair’s networking event, there will be a short panel discussion featuring green industry economic experts, followed by a question-and-answer segment with members of the community. Snacks and water will be provided.
So far, 16 organizations have registered to take part in the job fair, including Erhardt Construction, Rockford Construction and West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. Also taking part is West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services.
More organizations are expected to join prior to the event.
Jelks said it was disheartening to see the Forbes report last year, especially when factoring in the considerable efforts the city has taken to diversify its economy in recent years. He added there is another job fair in the works, with a target date for late spring.
“This is a way to connect people in southeast Grand Rapids and in the black community to the industry and employers where jobs are going to be created moving forward,” Jelks said.
“In all the high-growth sectors, what you have now is these economies being created, and African-Americans and Latinos are not being a part of them. What we’re doing is identifying these sectors as we go and connecting people at the grassroots level,” he said.
Though the fair originated because of the disparity between minority unemployment in the city and the trend of millennials struggling to find employment, Jelks said he hopes to see a wide variety of interested community members at the fair. From young people to laid-off workers and students, Jelks said it’s imperative everyone stays educated and up to date on the growing industries as the city works toward shrinking the inequality gap.
“It’s important that we eliminate barriers and create access to where opportunities are going and moving for the future,” Jelks said. “The jobs within the manufacturing industry that were lost are never coming back, so it’s essential that we help educate people on where the jobs of the future are going to be.”