Summer was ending, but Daniel Thorsten wasn’t quite ready to hang it up.

After roughly five years working on lawnmowers at a Decorah repair shop, Thorsten had just learned he would be losing his job. The shop’s owners were planning to sell their business and retire.

“I’m 62 years old, and I can’t retire yet,” Thorsten said. “I still wanted to keep going, so I went to IowaWORKS. They’ve served me very well in the past.”

Thorsten made his first visit to the Decorah IowaWORKS office on October 7. He came back for two job fairs later that month – and ended up with two different job offers. By mid-November, he was running a trim machine for Gemini, a Decorah sign manufacturer.

“I’m very pleased and happy with how it worked out,” Thorsten said.

Marla Loecke, operations manager for the Decorah IowaWORKS, said Thorsten’s story is commonplace. Iowa businesses and job seekers alike have been flocking to many IowaWORKS job fairs. IowaWORKS staff do their best to help match companies with potential recruits and help displaced workers find new careers.

The small job fairs have been a regular part of the schedule in Decorah since last fall, when Iowa Workforce Development ordered its staff to resume reemployment activities after more than a year of focusing solely on processing pandemic-related unemployment claims. At the same time, in-person traffic at IowaWORKS jobs centers has been growing rapidly across the state since October and ended December on a 2021 high.

“We did these job fairs prior to the pandemic, but we only did them once a month,” Loecke said. “Now, we’re doing them every other Wednesday. Companies like it, because it seems like the people they’re talking to are more engaged.”

Lindsey Moellers, senior human resources manager for Gemini in Decorah, said her company has been dealing with its portion of the workforce shortage by focusing on flexible scheduling, adding benefits, and recruiting in different areas than where Gemini has looked for workers in the past.

Gemini, which still had 10 open positions at of the end of 2021, found its visit to IowaWORKS to be fruitful.

“We talked to numerous people who were motivated to work and find the right position for them, versus the first position available,” Moellers said. “We would be interested in participating in the career fair in the future.”

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