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Seneca Nation fills tech jobs outside its own ranks

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Daniel Robison
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WNED
The towering Seneca Niagara Casino requires a slew of information technology workers, most of which are hired from outside the Seneca Nation.

The conventional wisdom on hiring is that it's slow and won't improve anytime soon. Companies just aren't filling vacant positions or producing all that many new jobs.

But the Seneca Nation in western New York is bucking that trend, creating new jobs - including those calling for highly-skilled technology workers - at their casino in Niagara Falls.

There's a catch though. With such a small population, the Senecas are forced to look outside of their own ranks to fill those positions.

Preventing Ocean's 11

Hundreds of gamblers, mostly of retirement age, fill the sprawling floor of the Seneca Niagara Casino, 24 hours a day. It takes a small army to keep this place running, including a regiment known as the information technology (IT) department.

That department is tasked in part, in the words of one Seneca recruiter, with making sure that casino heist flick Oceans 11 isn't reenacted here.

Lately, that effort has intensified and has led the Seneca Gaming Corporation, already one of the largest employers in western New York, to create dozens of new jobs in the IT field. The jobs required highly-skilled employees, and in turn offer solid salaries and benefits.

To find qualified candidates, Senecas first comb their own rolls. In fact, there's something called the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance, which gives a leg up to Native American applicants.

If there's two equally qualified candidates, but one is a member of the Nation, then the Seneca gets the job.

Preference, not entitlement

"It's about preference, not entitlement," says Renita DiStefano, IT Vice President. "But quite honestly there are so many positions open that within information technology, it is a specialized field, we look to the community to fill a lot of those spots."

By "community," she means western New York's two million or so non-Senecas. These days, the Nation's population hovers at just about 7,500 people, meaning the Seneca's in-house pool of jobseekers doesn't usually cut it for positions like this.

So, the nation holds open call job fairs to attract a hoard of non-Seneca applicants. 

"For me, it's excellent, " says applicant George Refermet. "I'm ... going to be graduating from college in the information technology [field]. The IT field is awesome right now. There's lots of openings for it. And the pay scale is great," says Refermet.

This is a new career path for Refermet, who thinks his choice to go back to school to improve his odds of landing a job with the Nation.

But first, he'll have to convince recruiter Navpreet Jatana, who sits at a small table waiting for resumes to slide across it.

"Typically an employer doesn't spent hours looking at a resume. We have a finite amount of time," Jatana says. "We have multiple candidates. We want to take a quick scan. You have about ten seconds to impress me with that document."

Which is about the same amount of time it takes to know if you've hit the jackpot. 

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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