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M&T draws strong career fair turnout amid changing labor climate

Even as crosstown rival First Niagara Bank is on the verge of potentially painful job cuts, M&T Bank has about 550 jobs to fill in Western New York.

And there is plenty of interest. Between 700 and 800 people showed up at a career fair M&T held on Wednesday to learn more.

M&T’s push to hire more people comes against the backdrop of a shrinking unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region, down to 4.8 percent in October. It was the lowest figure recorded for that month since 2007.

The region’s falling jobless rate means businesses trying to recruit new workers have to step up their efforts to get people with the skills and experience they want. The hiring climate is different from the aftermath of the Great Recession, when lots of people with impressive résumés were searching for work.

M&T hosted its career fair at the end of a workday at the Hotel at Lafayette. About 100 M&T volunteers from 17 bank divisions were there to talk to the attendees.

“We were very, very pleased with the turnout,” said Marcie Vassallo, administrative vice president and manager of talent acquisition. “We’ve already begun to set up interviews with talent, and we do expect to bring talent in as a result of this effort.”

The career fair drew a range of prospects, from entry-level candidates to professional-level people. “There was a mix,” Vassallo said. “I wouldn’t say it was a large degree of unemployed individuals.”

First Niagara, M&T’s biggest competitor in the area, could be facing large job cuts if its acquisition by KeyCorp goes through next year. Some attendees at the fair were from rival banks, including First Niagara, Vassallo said.

Yahoo held a job recruiting event in downtown Buffalo in November, as it looks to hire more employees for its Town of Lockport complex. More than 200 people turned out for that event.

When the unemployment rate is low, people who are employed feel more confident about leaving one company for another, said John Slenker, regional economist with the state Labor Department.

“What happens in a good labor market is voluntary separation,” Slenker said. The attitude is, he said, “If it doesn’t work out, I can always find another job.”

That is a departure from the job climate a few years ago, Slenker said. “When you’re in a labor market where you’re worried about losing your job, you don’t quit.”

Even with the jobless rate down to 4.8 percent, the Labor Department reported 26,900 people were unemployed in the region in October. Also in the mix are college students who are soon to graduate.

While many companies have moved their job-application process online, Slenker said job fairs still have value. Companies get first impressions of prospects, such as how they dress and communicate. “Everything is a supplement to a face-to-face interview,” he said.

Vassallo said M&T receives about 145,000 job applications per year. “But it’s really nice to put a name with a face and meet the talent in person, so we do try to get out into the community as needed,” she said. The bank holds career fairs periodically, most recently last April.

M&T is constantly recruiting to fill openings, so there is no set timetable for filling the jobs promoted at the career fair, she said. Some of M&T’s hiring is driven by newly created positions, while some of the other openings stem from employees getting promoted within the bank. “We’ve been running at about 1,000-plus openings on an ongoing basis for probably close to the last year and a half to two years, so we always have openings,” Vassallo said.

Part of what is driving M&T’s job growth is its recent acquisition of New Jersey-based Hudson City Bancorp, Vassallo said. M&T is growing its operations in Buffalo to support that expansion.