A former one-room schoolhouse, just a speck in the vast emptiness of the Carrizo Plain, was surrounded Tuesday morning by the glint of car windshields as more than 200 people sought jobs building a 250-megawatt solar power station.
In its first official job fair for SunPower’s California Valley Solar Ranch project, construction contractor Bechtel was taking résumés for more than 200 union construction positions as well as management, supervisory, skilled and unskilled nonunion positions.
Job seekers filled the Heritage Community Center and spilled out the front door in the hot sun, waiting for a minute of face time with a Bechtel representative.
Bechtel is also working through local unions to hire pile drivers, electricians, carpenters, ironworkers and other laborers. Bechtel representatives declined to comment, but a job notice states that San Luis Obispo County residents will receive priority in hiring.
Among them was Mark Purdue, a 59-year-old construction superintendent from Atascadero who had constant work until “the great crash” — as he calls the recession — and has been underemployed since.
It’s been two months since his last project, and he has been scouring job websites. “I just can’t sit at home and watch ‘I Love Lucy’ anymore,” he said.
For many at the event, the SunPower project is the only real opportunity on Purdue’s horizon, and scoring it will be competitive, he said.
There were 12,300 unemployed people in San Luis Obispo County — or 9 percent of the workforce — in May, according to the latest data from the California Employment Development Department.
“There’s 30 more guys just like me in this line,” Purdue said.
Others weren’t so fortunate, not having worked for two years or more, such as Matt Scroggins of Creston, who lost his job in 2009 as a manager at a Paso Robles building supplies company.
He said his wife’s hours as a food service manager for the Atascadero Unified School district have also been reduced because of budget cuts.
Scroggins found out about Tuesday’s job fair through the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, which is helping him interview with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union later this month.
Others at the fair included an office manager with 13 years of experience who is now working three part-time jobs; a laid-off firefighter and Cal Poly graduate who is trying to become an electrician; and a heavy equipment operator who gets bumped to the bottom of his union’s “out of work” list with each two-day or four-day job.
The only person it seemed who wasn’t looking for a job was Helen Perry, a job developer for Cuesta College’s Career One-Stop Center, who wanted to get information on how to coach the 70 to 100 unemployed people the center serves each day to apply for the solar project.
Though Bechtel collected more than 200 résumés Tuesday, job seekers will have to wait.
The SunPower project must address a lawsuit brought by opponents before construction can begin. And First Solar’s 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farm, also proposed for the Carrizo Plain, is still under consideration by the county.
After his brief interview with Bechtel, Purdue said, “If they call, they’ll call.”