The churning job market throughout the past few years has affected businesses, employees, and job seekers, as the COVID-19 pandemic shook up everything from remote work to rethinking of careers.

It adds up to a real need to connect potential employees with the right job fit.

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business has tracked the seismic shifts in employment as part of its annual “Business in the Northwest” report. In their 2023 report, researchers found that, partially due to the tight labor market, five times as many employees and four times as many business leaders feel the regional economy has declined or weakened since 2019.

“People are having a hard time filling open positions,” says Tony Poston (’08 Poli. Sci., ’11 Crim. Jus.), executive director of CougsFirst! which is a business network for WSU alumni and friends. He started College Hill Custom Threads in Pullman after graduation and “hired hundreds of Cougs. The company is now being run by somebody that I met at WSU, and she’s hired Cougs, who in turn have gone into management roles.”

After he joined CougsFirst! in 2022, Poston saw how WSU’s Academic Success and Career Center (ASCC) helped graduating students at the Pullman career expo. After talking with ASCC’s Amanda Morgan (’06 Hosp. Busi. Mgmt., ’08 MEd Higher Ed. Admin.), he says the idea clicked that CougsFirst!, primarily a trade show before, could also provide career networking services.

“Hopefully, we can connect the dots for some of these businesses, and some of these folks that are looking for jobs⁠—either a first career out of college, an encore career, or a change in career,” Poston says.

The concept goes into action at the CougsFirst! Show and Career Expo on May 12 in Bellevue. ASCC will partner with CougsFirst! on the event.

Poston invites alumni to join either by registering early or the day of the expo. “This career expo is an opportunity for people looking for jobs to go interview the companies that they might work at. And it’s not just for current students or recent grads. Any alumni can come if they’re looking for a career change.”

WSU students and recent alumni can also find career coaching, résumé workshops, and other career support at ASCC.