Karen Strickland said she never thought she’d be looking for a job at 59 years old.
She was employed as a kiln operator at the Georgia-Pacific Sterling plant the past 17 years and planned to work there until she retired. Those plans evaporated after she learned on Feb. 1 that she was among the 120 workers there who no longer had jobs.
“What am I going to do now?” she said. “It’s real scary.”
Strickland was among the many former employees who attended a job fair at the Golden Isles Career Academy on Friday to look at their options. She said there were several jobs that interested her, but she’s not sure if she’ll get an offers.
“If the good Lord is willing, I hope I get something,” she said.
Stephanie Davis, a human resources manager at Georgia-Pacific, said 37 businesses had representatives at the event and some of them are actively seeking new employees.
“It has been overwhelming support from the local community,” Davis said.
Some of the employees who were permanently laid off are looking for jobs at other Georgia-Pacific mills, but Davis said many don’t want to relocate.
“A lot of them want to stay in the area,” she said.
Some of the businesses at the fair were from outside the immediate area but close enough for a long commute for those unwilling or unable to relocate.
Ebony Hill, a recruiter for SNF Holding Co. in Riceboro, said her company, which manufactures water-soluble products, has some open entry-level positions with little or no prior experience required. The company learned about the job fair at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, she said.
“It’s looking good, so far,” she said of interest among those seeking jobs.
Lorinco Reed is another Georgia-Pacific employee who attended the job fair. He said he worked there 2 1/2 years and planned to make his job with the company a career. He said nobody expected to lose their jobs.
“It was rough on us,” he said. “Everyone was planning to stay with the company. It damaged a lot of people.”
Reed is among the laid off workers who said he can’t relocate.
“Right now, it won’t be possible,” he said. “You’ve got kids, a family.”
Another employer, DS Smith, had representatives at the event to fill some open positions at a company saw mill in Riceboro. Michelle Richardson, a human resources manager for DS Smith, said some of the Georgia-Pacific workers she talked with could start in two weeks with little training because of their prior experience.
“It’s hard to find experienced saw mill employees in the area,” she said.
The Georgia Department of Labor had a booth where officials provided handouts out the jobs available in the area, as well as information about networking, interviewing skills, resumes and upcoming career fairs in the area including one from 9 a.m. to noon on March 20 at the Department of Labor’s Brunswick Career Center on 2517 Tara Lane.
Freddie Jackson, a branch relationship officer with Five Star Credit Union was on hand to help former employees with their retirement plans.
“We’re hoping to get new membership,” she said. “We’d love to help if we can.”
Former workers also were given another option. Coastal Pines Technical College had representatives at the event to provide information about the Hope Career Grant program as another alternative for those seeking jobs. The grant pays for books, tuition and nearly every expense for training in high-demand jobs in fields such as automotive technology, health science, industrial maintenance, and welding and joining technology.
Some courses, such as electrical mineworker, take as little as eight weeks of training with job placement available and a strong likelihood of immediate employment, said Amanda Morris, vice president of academic affairs at Coastal Pines.
“What we’re offering is no-cost education,” she said. “It’s the best way to go to school. It’s a great opportunity.”