Job fairs help veterans explore employment 



The economy may slowly be heading upward, but veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq unemployment rates continue over 20 percent – twice the national average, and William Davis is trying to do something about it.

As the mid-Atlantic regional director of the Helmets to Hardhats not-for-profit, he is trying to interest transitioning soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to consider the construction trades. "Job fairs [like the one in Newport News, Va.] are important. All they need to bring to us is a DD-214 and an honorable discharge."

Davis, who retired from the Navy, said, "It’s been tough. We placed about 1,000 last year in the trades, but we had placed 2,900 the year before."

"We can train them, and they can use their VA benefits" to cover the cost of training and certification. Veterans as a group "are willing and want to succeed."

At this job fair in a hotel ballroom near Forts Eustis and Monroe, Langley Air Force Base and naval bases on both sides of Hampton Roads, hundreds are lining up before 22 large defense contractors like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, government agencies like the Military Sealift Command, and universities and colleges.

Andrea Yanego, assistant director of Mountaineer Temps at West Virginia University, said, "Vets can bring these skills and discipline that they learned in the military. They are the best of the best." She added her university goes to military job fairs to attract veterans as students and also as employees.

Acknowledging a tight job market, she added that West Virginia University sees veterans as "a ready-made work force. They can use the latest technology." She noted that her university has been designated "a military friendly school."

David Eniger, a former B-52 pilot who has spent the last few years in Air Force program management, said, "This is my third job fair. I primarily came over to make contact with military and government employers."

Making contact and keeping in contact with potential employers is extremely important in landing the right job. "Network, network, network," Lt. Gen. John McDuffie, USA, Ret., now a senior executive at Microsoft, said at an Army Women in Transition forum. "I have a mission. I have a job at Microsoft because I spent 32 year in the service. I tell everyone to network while you’re on active duty."

Angela Messer of Booz Allen Hamilton added at the forum, "Most of our hires come from referrals."

Eniger is several months away from retirement and is trying to stay in the area because his wife has a good job with the federal government and his children are still in school.

Like Eniger, Army Master Sgt. Edward Modlin is testing the waters. "I will be retiring in April 2011, so I am just looking around today." Like a number of attendees at this job fair, sponsored by Military.Com and the Noncommissioned Officers Association, he has a top secret clearance, and that gives him a leg up on other job seekers. "Anything to do with information systems, I can do it."

Tom Huston with General Dynamics IT said, "We’re looking for cleared people."

Rick Haviland, a recruiter for Military Sealift Command, said, "We’re looking for mariners – engineers, medical, cooks, communications. We attract a mix of civilians, Navy and Army, primarily."

One of those civilians Haviland talked to was Nicholas Briscoe, a painter at Newport News Shipbuilding, "I want to go to sea. I’m interested in what MSC has to offer. Going to job fairs is important. They give me a way to see what kinds of jobs are out there."

Marc Rodriguez, who retired as Air Combat Command’s first sergeant, is looking for something other than a new career in technology. Like Eninger, this is his third job fair. "My background is career counseling, and I would like to do that." He has his resume in hand as he waits to talk with representatives of Military to Medicine representatives. Going to job fairs to find the right job is important, he said.

Adding, "You just gain experience in what kind of skills employers are looking for."

Ten years ago, Brenda Watkins was looking for the same kind of position as Rodriguez. "I had been in law enforcement and then in education and training in the Air Force" before she retired, and she found the career in education she had been looking for.

Now the registrar and director of academic advising at Limestone College in Gaffney, S.C., she does 30 job fairs a year. "I tell [veterans and retirees]"A lot of the education credits they already have from military schools" and now it is a matter of applying that learning to a degree program.