Matrix Uses Drive-Through Job Fair to Attract Candidates

Royale Theus (left), outreach manager for community health for Matrix Human Services, and Matrix VP of Community Health Dave Perkins (right) interview Anthony Poydras at the Matrix job fair. Photo by Rosh Sillars

Yvonne Winn of Detroit spent the last 34 years tending her cash register in the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, and she was looking for a new career path.

The folks at Detroit-based Matrix Human Services, a nonprofit organization that advocates for and serves the most vulnerable in the metropolitan Detroit community, was looking to bring in new people after suffering through hiring problems brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent drive-through job fair at the Matrix complex downtown solved both of their problems.

Winn, who got laid off when the pandemic hit in March 2020, got a new job in Matrix’s food service operation. And Matrix found people to fill several positions that were open.

Winn was at last week’s job fair in search of something new.

“I was eager to find out what was available,” she said. “I’m looking for a way to be of service … I like what I see. I turned 60 this year, so it’s a chance at a new journey.”

Matrix, which got its start with its forerunner, the League of Catholic Women, in 1906, is a $50 million nonprofit with some 500 employees, and often finds itself in need of new hires.

According to CEO Brad Coulter, Matrix’s primary focus is kids – it’s the largest provider of Head Start preschool education in Detroit with some 1,800 kids – but also on adults, as well.

There’s also have a community center on the east side of Detroit that houses its adult services programs … high school diploma, workforce development training, and a manufacturing boot camp Coulter says has “been very successful.”

It’s a very broad organization that touches about 20,000 people in the city of Detroit.

“We have a long history of working with people who need help,” Coulter said. “We give them hope, we help them coordinate resources and we help them step up to a better future.”

With a number of openings, Matrix turned to a hiring tactic they’ve used before – a drive-through job fair. Matrix was looking for a variety of applicant types – entry-level to experienced, retirees seeking another path or younger folks just starting out.

“We have a number of younger people that it’s the first start in their career and we give people opportunities,” Coulter said. “We have a number of people who are retired and looking to come back and contribute something.”

Applicants could pull in, go to any number of stations, and talk to members of Matrix’s hiring team. All of it done without leaving the car.

The job fair didn’t draw a big crowd. Karen Gray, Matrix’s vice president for human resources, said she expected economic conditions such as the $300 additional unemployment benefit to be a drag on the crowd.

Gray, a 32-year veteran of the human resources field, said she’d “never seen anything like it.”

To combat those factors, Gray said Matrix did a lot more advertising, and “blew it up” on social media in an effort to attract applicants.

“We didn’t expect a big crowd because of everything that’s going down with the pandemic and unemployment insurance,” she said. “It’s very difficult to recruit these days. It’s hard to get people during this pandemic to want to work and to show up for interviews and just to apply on line.

“In the past we’ve had great success with our job fairs,” she added. “We filled all of our positions every time we’ve had a career fair … but this one looks a little different. My feeling is if we hire one candidate, it was all worth it.”

Matrix frequently has a number of openings and, in fact, plans a push to hire preschool teachers, probably in July.

In an organization as large as ours, we always have openings to fill … we’re always recruiting,” Coulter said. “It’s a really nice place to work because you’re accomplishing something and you can see the results at the end of the day when you go home.”