Veterans speak with companies during Hiring Our Heroes job fair at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday, August 22. Photo by David Calvert/The American Legion

Hiring fair in Reno connects veterans with employers

Starbucks, Tesla, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Panasonic Energy of North America – those were just some of the employers and service organizations that participated in the Hiring Our Heroes job fair on Aug. 22 during The American Legion’s 99th national convention in Reno, Nev.

The job fair featured personal branding and career planning forums, including:

• Reboots to Business entrepreneurship workshop;

• American Legion resume workshop;

• Mock interviewing/resume review;

• American Legion financial literacy workshop; and

• Networking reception.

“We, with Hiring Our Heroes, started a grassroots effort in hopes of getting meaningful employment for our (transitioning) servicemembers, veterans, National Guard and reservists and military spouses,” said Cara Cooke, senior manager of events for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “The purpose is to connect all of our network of partners with The American Legion’s, so we can bring all the veterans from this area together and have meaningful conversations. When they leave here today, they’ll be more equipped in the market for employment.”

Hiring Our Heroes, a joint initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The American Legion, launched in March 2011 as a nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning servicemembers and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities. The program’s goal is to create a movement across America in hundreds of communities where veterans and military families return every day, according to the foundation’s website.

To date, more than 31,000 veterans and military spouses have obtained employment opportunities through Hiring Our Heroes events. Over 2,000 companies of all sizes have committed to hire 710,000 veterans and military spouses as part of the Hiring 500,000 Heroes campaign – of those commitments, there have been more than 505,000 confirmed hires.

“Employment is the bottom line. We usually have a 50 percent retention rate for getting preliminary job offers at our hiring fairs,” Cooke said. “It’s really exciting. Every veteran is so different and they bring such a unique skill set to the table.”

For servicemembers like Army Sgt. Maj. James Richardson seeking employment upon his departure from the Nevada National Guard, he said hiring veterans and military spouses isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.

“I’m in transition and will retire at the end of the year after 31 years of active duty,” he said. “I certainly need something to do. As a senior in my organization, there’s a lot of leadership challenges for us. It doesn’t really translate to the civilian world. Somehow or someway, we have to be able to transition our soldiers better than what we do now.”

Fortunately, Richardson said he is grateful to learn about the Legion’s role as a patriotic veterans service organization devoted to mutual helpfulness.

“I flew in from my home in Vegas. I didn’t really know, at the time, that The American Legion was part of this event,” he said. “Kudos to them and thank you very much. I’m glad they reached out to Hiring Our Heroes to get this job fair going. It’s great support for the soldiers.”

At Panasonic Energy of North America, collaboration is key to career enhancement and creating a better life for everyone. A job is only part of what they offer, as recruiter Brent Wyatt explains.

“We work over at the Gigafactory in partnership with Tesla. We manufacturer the lithium ion batteries that go in the Tesla electric cars,” Wyatt said. “Right now, we’re looking to fill hundreds if not thousands of positions. We are definitely looking for veterans because a lot of them have the experience we’re looking for in terms of the technical stuff.”

Tesla broke ground on the Gigafactory, located on Electric Avenue in Sparks, Nev., in June 2014. It is being built in phases so that manufacturing can begin immediately inside the finished sections and continue to expand thereafter. Once complete, Gigafactory is expected to be the biggest building in the world, entirely powered by renewable energy sources with the goal of achieving net zero energy, according to Tesla’s website.

Wyatt said Panasonic is primarily looking to recruit maintenance technicians, shift leads, production operators and entry-level operators. Panasonic hopes to make the biggest impact possible by focusing on seven basic business principles:

• Contribution to society;

• Fairness and honesty;

• Cooperation and team spirit;

• Untiring effort for improvement;

• Courtesy and humility;

• Adaptability; and

• Gratitude.

“We love our veterans,” Wyatt said. “In addition to having some of the best skill sets, veterans are exceptional at following our process flow but more than anything, our procedures. They are experts at figuring out how to work with very complicated things and learning it very quickly.”

David Fantell, a 10-year Army veteran turned recruiter at Panasonic, said he is humbled to help others like him find employment.

“Honestly, I wish that I had an opportunity like this when I was getting out of the military,” he said. “If we had this networking and type of system in place, it would’ve been 100 times better. Helping other veterans through their transition and to be successful is what we’re here for. It’s a great event and great program.”

Thanks to the Legion, Wyatt said it’s incredible that veterans have an opportunity to see where their skills fit in and compare different companies all in one place.

“It’s more than just the veteran itself; it’s the family as a whole,” Starbucks Distribution Operations Manager Tim Aboussleman said. “At Starbucks, we believe in family. We’re all there working toward the same goal and to make sure everyone is taken care of. Veterans are those kinds of people that you can put anywhere and they’ll adapt. I think that it is absolutely every American’s duty, as well as Starbucks as a responsible corporation, to go out there and help these individuals get the right positions to help them excel. They went out there and fought for everything we get to enjoy.”

For Cooke, Hiring Our Heroes is about providing a wealth of opportunities for America’s heroes. She said these are individuals who not only possess extraordinary skills, but are also valuable assets that companies need when it comes to teamwork and adaptability.

“Every military member has a different story but they all have one thing in common - they all sacrificed so much and wore a uniform to defend our nation,’” said Cooke, an Air Force veteran who served with the Rhode Island Air National Guard. “I am a veteran which is why I’m so committed to my mission here. I see what it’s like, especially the struggle that unemployment has on military families. As a spouse and former servicemember, it’s amazing to give back and help them any way I can.

“We’ve been working with The American Legion since we first started, which shows how well supportive the Legion is to the Hiring Our Heroes initiative. We could not do it without them and are very thankful for what they do for all the veterans and servicemembers.”