Isaiah Sprague, left, talks with IMKO Workforce Solutions, while two men fill out paperwork for St. Joseph Transit, during a job fair Wednesday at Stoney Creek Hotel.

Local companies can’t find people to apply for jobs, and a city-wide job fair Wednesday showed just how starved the market is.

Other than the 13 business booths inside the conference room at the Stoney Creek Hotel, the place was fairly empty. Two men filled out applications for St. Joseph Transit, while Isaiah Sprague, who was wearing glasses and cowboy boots, talked with IMKO Workforce Solutions.

Sprague has been unemployed for about four months while working occasionally for his dad’s lawn care business.

“I’ve had a couple jobs,” Sprague said. “They were mostly temps, and they didn’t work out. Then I’ve had a couple of interviews, and unfortunately, they went with other candidates.”

At the job fair, Sprague talked to a bunch of businesses.

“I’m really just trying to get my foot in somewhere,” he said.

For an hour, Sprague was one of just a couple of potential employees at the job fair, which have become bleak since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s not a whole lot of applicants coming out. Previously, if we had a job fair, you’re talking 400 or 500 people would be at them,” said Jan Phillippe, the human resource manager with Ventura Foods.

Ventura Foods, which currently has 17 open positions — nearly double the normal amount — is doing anything it can to entice people to apply. At its booth, two signs advertised a $1,000 sign-on bonus.

“I’ve been at this job for 28 years, and we’ve never had a sign-on bonus before, so that is something new we’re doing,” Phillippe said. “We’re advertising on TV. We’re advertising on the radio.”

St. Joseph Transit also has adjusted the way it finds and entices applicants.

“We’ve changed some of our training programs, we bettered our training programs,” said Daniel Baker, the supervisor of dispatch and drivers for St. Joseph Transit. “We’re going to job fairs a little more often. We’re doing the best we can; we just got to get them to walk in the door. That’s the start.”

As St. Joseph Transit prepares for a rebrand, it will need more drivers when routes expand.

“That’s the challenge right now, just to get people to come out and look for a job. But that’s why we’re at the job fair today, hoping that we can get some quality people, so we can get things expanded with the system,” Baker said.

Phillippe said it’s a mystery why people aren’t applying for jobs. But Baker believes unemployment benefits have kept people at home because work was “handed to them.”

“Before when we had a job open, or several jobs open, we would get 200 or 300 applicants for that position. Now, we’ll come in on a Monday morning, we might have 12, sometimes seven,” Phillippe said.

After talking with multiple companies, Sprague is leaning toward applying through IMKO Workforce Solutions.

But with so few applicants, companies are forced to pull out all the stops. On top of the sign-on money, Ventura Foods has increased its employee referral bonus.

“We’re taking it day by day and doing everything we can think of,” Phillippe said.

Quinn Ritzdorf can be reached at

(1) comment


Mandate the vaccine employers in St. Joseph. That will make a big difference! Also, mask up! We want to wipe out the pandemic and to do this will end it MUCH sooner!

What is wrong with people in Buchanan county????

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