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McJob market aims to 'supersize' WNY applicants welcomed with open arms as fast-food giant expands work force

McDonald's began its drive to "supersize" its work force Tuesday by interviewing candidates for 50,000 new positions nationwide, with a sizable portion of them in Western New York.

Activities were planned, and special guests were on hand, at the Amherst location at 5150 Sheridan Drive, where current workers were celebrated, as potential new colleagues filled out applications on a laptop.

Collette Richardson said the opportunities at the Amherst fast-food restaurant she owns with her husband are suited for many types of people.

"Actually, it's a great job for mothers with kids in school," she said. "It's a wonderful start for a first job because it teaches leadership and working with others, which is good for any field. And then we have retirees looking for a way to fill their time."

The McDonald's hiring day coincided with confirmation of a significant drop in the unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region. The state Labor Department reported Tuesday that the rate was 8.1 percent in March, down from 8.7 percent in February and well below the 9.2 percent unemployment rate of March 2010.

While those numbers indicate that hiring is picking up, many of the new jobs are coming in the service sector. As the region loses higher-paying manufacturing jobs, it continues to have growth in lower-paying service-sector jobs such as those at McDonald's.

Chris Beckage, vice president of locally based staffing company Superior Group, said this means the area's school systems must adapt. "Soft skills are now essential," he said. "You need to write well, speak well and know about conflict resolution."

Although such jobs are generally regarded as lower-paying, with little advancement opportunity and often part time, Beckage says they have their place in the local recovery.

"I think every job has importance in the recovery," Beckage said. "These are viable jobs. These are jobs for people who maybe are not as qualified for other things."

The need for more service workers continues.

"McDonald's is growing," said William Tice, the chain's vice president of quality, service and cleanliness, who was visiting from Pittsburgh. "This is a function of our growth and success. We need more people to satisfy our customers."

Tice said that since the company began promoting its hiring drive, it has received 260,000 applications from people such as Mary Jane O'Connor, the lone in-person applicant at the Amherst location as of noon.

O'Connor said she came seeking part-time pay to supplement what she earns as a Sunoco gas station employee. The former Tim Hortons worker, who lives nearby, said the opportunity attracted her because she wouldn't have to travel far. "It's a really nice store. I think they're very nondiscriminatory. Because at my age, I can't be too picky," said the former health care aide who hopes to be a cashier or a cook.

The Amherst location expected to receive more applicants as the day went on, looking to college students on spring break.

Closer to the city, locations appeared to have a heavier volume of applicants.

Jamoal Newbern, 20, was among teens and young adults who crowded the University Plaza location in Amherst. Newbern, who is unemployed and has grocery store experience, said he was attracted to the opportunity to work near home.

The Elmwood Avenue location in Buffalo also had an abundance of applicants.

Sixteen-year-old Anzhane Gibbs, who is looking for her first job, said she chose the restaurant because she thought it would be "a good work experience."

Sheila Diaz, 28, wants to try something different from her factory experience.

Jerry Newman, a University at Buffalo professor and author of a book detailing his stint as a McDonald's worker, was a special guest at the Amherst location.

Newman, who teaches human resources management, said McDonald's is a good opportunity for people with a few key traits. "First and foremost, someone who is great at dealing with pressure," he said. "It's great for someone with interpersonal skills and someone who likes teamwork. If anyone says those aren't three skills you need to be successful, they're dead wrong."

Newman praised the company's training of managers and its consistency, which he said stood out among the fast-food places where he worked to prepare his book, "My Secret Life on the McJob: Lessons in Leadership Guaranteed to Supersize and Management Style."

"They never did anything bad. That doesn't mean they necessarily did anything great," he said. "But they never did anything bad, and that stood out -- at least at my two stores."

e-mail: vsherry@buffnews.com

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