Representatives of regional companies and organized labor attended the first Burmese Job Fair Saturday.
Kyaw Soe, principal and instructor at the Burmese Language and Cultural School at IPFW, made it clear he expects to see more such job fairs in the future.
"We have enough talented, educated (Burmese) people here," he said, pointing to the potential applicants, strolling from table to table in IPFW’s Neff Hall. "But when employers don’t hire them, they end up in California or New York, but if they hire here, these people are going to stay here and give back to the community."
Representatives from Peyton’s Northern Distribution Center in Bluffton, Busche Enterprise Division Inc. in Albion, the Northeast Indiana Building Trades and Wells Fargo attended the job fair.
Soe had each representative explain what their employer was looking for, but he would step in often so he could translate for some of the employers.
With only an hour and a half scheduled for the fair, it wasn’t the fastest process, but participants found it the best way to communicate certain questions or concerns they had about previous times they had applied.
Fort Wayne is home to more than 4,000 Burmese.
Soe explained that for many participants, this is their first time putting a face to these businesses. And while they might have been confused about tests or the selection process in the past, this was a way to directly communicate with someone who could help.
"We want a dialogue so we can move forward," Soe said. "They are asking these employers many, many questions because we want a dialogue. When we have that dialogue, we see how it improves."
For the companies and organizations that participated in the fair, it’s a win-win situation, Soe said.
Brian Moreno, a pipefitter representing the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 166, said the local trade industry expects to lose 50 percent of its welders and 30 to 40 percent of its high-end HVAC technicians in the next 10 years because of retirements.
He said the union has a partnership with Ivy Tech that allows apprentices to train during the day and take evening classes that require only a small monetary contribution.
As a product of the program, Moreno said he was able to work and get a college education without accumulating any debt.
"We’re scrambling right now to get our workforce up and educated," he said. "There’s a huge generational gap, where high schools have pushed college, college, college and forgot about the trades."
Soe said the local Burmese community is hard-working with potential, and he would like to see Fort Wayne Community Schools as well as the Fort Wayne Police Department and Fire Department take more interest in hiring Burmese people who are familiar with the culture.
"The challenge is that they have to open up for diversity and be serious, not just promising," he said. "We want them to be serious about hiring these people so they can give back to the community."