Are MGM’s Job Fairs Anything More than Smart PR?

As Springfield residents prepare to vote next week on MGM’s proposal to build a resort casino in the city, the company has been holding a series of job fairs and career workshops. 

Michael Hill was among the more than 160 people in attendance at an MGM-sponsored career prep workshop Tuesday.  He says his initial skepticism is giving way to guarded optimism for him and the city’s future, assuming  MGM  is awarded western Massachusetts’ single casino license. 

“I was working for a gun manufacturer. Business got slow so now I’m currently unemployed and I’m on the hunt now,” Hill says. “And with them coming, it’s like perfect timing. I’m hoping I can get a job with them or a career with them.”

Hill is among the more than 10 percent of Springfield and Holyoke residents who are unemployed. And the official jobless rate for Hampden County, the home for all three of the competing casinos, is more than 8-and-a-half percent.

Bill Ward leads the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Even though a casino opening is at least 2-and-a-half years away,  he says the workshops are a good marketing strategy for MGM ahead of this Tuesday’s vote. But he says the seminars also provide a wake up call for residents to prepare for what the casino industry expects from them.

“The common challenge, wherever this casino is, is going to be the need for employability-ready workers,” Ward says.

‘Employability-ready workers’ means those who not only have skills like accounting or IT , but who Ward says also show up to work on time, are open to learning and  work well with others.

“A whole variety of those kinds of what we used to call the soft skills, but which we at the Regional Employment Board now refer to as the hard skills,” Ward says. “It’s difficult to find people that have a good foundation in these skills.”

And Ward says the challenge for his agency and others  is to provide more training courses to develop those customer service skills as well as English language and math by the time the casino, whichever one that is, comes to the area.