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Borough job fair attracts 1,500 applicants

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In a turnout indicative of the borough’s struggling economy, some 1,500 people flocked to the Queens Job Fair 2002 in the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel Friday despite a driving rain outside.

From those who had years of experience in finance to those in search of a clerical position, many of the men and women who packed the downtown Flushing hotel were looking for employment after months without a job.

“I’m trying to network with a lot of people,” said Tony Coppeta, 51, of Flushing. “This is my first job fair.”

Coppeta got married a year ago and was laid off from his insurance firm three months later.

“I didn’t think it was as bad as it is,” he said.

Coppeta and others passed out resumés to a variety of about 50 organizations seeking new hires. The groups included American Express, Macy’s and the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade as well as real estate and insurance firms, financial services concerns and government agencies.

More than 1,300 job seekers preregistered for the fair and well over a hundred others showed up at the door.

The event was organized by TimesLedger Newspapers.

“I’m just looking for something I can jump into immediately,” said Debrah Taylor, 38, of Flushing. Taylor, who worked at a concession stand at Shea Stadium, said she was planning to work only night games during the upcoming season and was searching for a clerical position.

The U.S. Army, the U.S. Coast Guard and the New York Police Department all had representatives at the fair.

“Over the last year, we’ve been recruiting throughout the city, and we’re doing very well,” NYPD Officer Cecile O’Brien said.

Ellen Borod, a recruiter with Geico Direct Insurance, said she had some strong potential candidates.

“Interest is one thing,” Borod added. “I want to get people hired.”

The unemployment rate in Queens jumped over the last year from 4.1 percent in May 2002 to 6.3 percent in May 2002, according to a Queens County Overall Economic Development Corporation report.

Many of the attendees told stories of a rough year, and many had lost their jobs in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sharon Johnson, 37, of East Elmhurst, was laid off from her administrative aide position with a tax service company after Sept. 11 and has worked at Lord & Taylor since then.

“Right now I’m taking a serious pay cut,” Johnson said. “I’m looking for a higher-paying job.”

Others expressed frustration at the job search.

“I find this very degrading,” said Rafael Alberty, 50. “I’ve been to five separate job fairs and it’s all the same. They take your resumé and then nothing.”

Alberty, who lives with his wife and two children in the Bronx, has had a long career working for organizations as varied as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Daily News, and as a teacher for the city Board of Education. He lost his last job just before Sept. 11 and has been unemployed since.

Alberty said he was being passed up for younger people with less experience.

“I think they want people half my age,” he said.

But the tough unemployment market, while harrowing for many job seekers, has been somewhat of a boon for other sectors.

Russ Koyfman, an admissions counselor for Touro College, said many people had expressed interest in enrolling. Touro is an accredited school which offers bachelor’s degrees at 14 locations throughout the city, including Flushing.

“As the job market goes down, the education goes up,” Koyfman said. “We believe that the best way for the people who don’t have a job to get a job is to better their education.”

After the job fair ended, the Queens Women’s Center held a panel discussion with top women executives in Queens describing their career paths and opportunities in their work fields.

The panelists included Gertie Stinney-Brown, Queens Hospital Center; Gigi Colon, U.S. Postal Service; Dolores Hofman; Queens Air Services; Margarita Suarez, WANTA, Non-Traditional Careers for Women; and Darby Worsley, CareerBuilder LLC.

Marie Nahikian, chief executive officer of the Queens County Overall Economic Development Corp., was the keynote speaker.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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