SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - It was a strong and steady turnout on this Friday night for a major employer in the Ark-La-Tex that's looking to hire dozens more people.
After just one hour into a two-day Benteler Steel job fair on the second floor of the Emmett E. Cope Student Services Building at Bossier Parish Community College. Day two of the Benteler Steel job fair at BPCC runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 14 at the same location.
Jacques Lasseigne with the Louisiana Workforce Commission attended the job fair and said, "The local job market is doing good to better right now."
Benteler Steel is ultimately expected to hire up to 675 people at the Shreveport site. Lasseigne said the company is likely above 500 already or will be after this latest round of hiring.
In a public statement, Benteler Steel announced it hoped to hire about 75 people in the next 6 to 8 months.
According to state figures, the unemployment rate in northwest Louisiana has been as low as 4.2 percent.
That was back in February. As of May, it now stands a full percentage point higher at 5.2 percent.
But labor officials say there's a different number that better describes the local job market, citing 3,000 more people in the local workforce that than one year ago.
Organizers told us 150 people had already shown up to apply for dozens of new jobs available at Benteler's Shreveport facility.
Those applicants included 34-year-old Antonio Harper of Shreveport.
"It would be career-changing for my life and for my family and all that too," Harper said.
But Lasseigne explained to us the biggest challenge facing many local employers. "Right now, we have more jobs available than qualified people."
Lasseigne pointed to two typical solutions to this so-called "skills gap" in the workforce. "There's either on the job training. Or, we have some training programs we offer employers. So, they can use that."
Harper said he has most of the necessary training and qualifications for a position at Benteler. But he added that the mostly rosy picture of the local job market does not tell the whole story.
"Whew. It's rough, it's rough. It's not very many jobs and stuff," Harper said.
And that's not the only job fair. The city of Shreveport will host one next Thursday, July 19 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Municipal Auditorium, featuring area companies and governmental employers.