(Photo by Lucas Carter)

Job fair puts veterans face-to-face with prospective employers

In 2011, with the veterans unemployment rate sitting at more than 8 percent, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce began a new program geared at putting veterans, transitioning military, military spouses, National Guard members and reservists at work in the civilian world.

And alongside the Chamber was The American Legion, which became a key member of the Hiring Our Heroes team and still is today.

That partnership was evident Feb. 23 at the Hiring Our Heroes career event during the Legion’s 58th annual Washington Conference. Nearly 100 job-seekers at the Washington Hilton had the opportunity to meet with representatives from 53 companies and government agencies, including Amazon, Hilton Worldwide, Lowe’s, Southwest Airlines, the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Agriculture, and the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Since Hiring Our Heroes began, the veterans unemployment rate has dropped to 4 percent according to January 2018 statistics. “It really took a great deal of action by both the private sector and the public sector to aggressively attach the challenges that our servicemembers were facing when they came back from deployment,” Hiring Our Heroes President Eric Eversole said. “I’ll tell you that since that first day back in March of 2011, we were honored to have The American Legion stand next to us as we undertook the rest of the mission to stamp out veteran unemployment.”

The Feb. 23 hiring fair was sponsored by Amazon, Microsoft, AARP and Oak Grove Technologies. Amazon’s Raphael “Ralph” Hernandez, the company’s Senior Community Engagement Program Leader and a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, said his company is a strong fit for those coming from a military background.

“Amazon values veterans and military spouses, National Guard members and reservists and military dependents because they have the values and skills that we need,” Hernandez said. “Regardless of their background, education level or rank, there is a job at Amazon for a military community member.

“They’re a good culture fit. Their values align with Amazon’s leadership principles. And we’re seeing that military community members, veterans and military spouses – they’re succeeding at Amazon."

Michael J. Marin, who spent 14 years on U.S. Army active duty and now is a major in the Army Reserves, recently began working as an agent for Greater Washington New York Life, which had a booth at the job fair.

Marin said New York Life has been a good fit for him because of what he’s learned in the Army. “(At New York Life), for myself, there’s a lot of what I picked up in the military: just the motivation, discipline, the focus,” he said. “Translating that into this job requires the same kind of intensity.”

On the other side of the table were veterans like Brian Mills, who retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2012, as a senior master sergeant and came to the job fair looking for a lead on a new career. “I’m really looking for some gainful employment … that’s commensurate with my grade and skill level,” he said. “It look liked it was going to be a really robust event that The American Legion was putting on, so I felt like this was a great time to capitalize on some opportunities.”

Mills came away from the event impressed. “It has been my experience that sometimes you see a long list of employers, but when you show up you don’t see that same number of employers,” he said. “Here, it’s just the opposite. I saw the list, I had some targeted employers I wanted to talk to, and so far I’m two for two. I am impressed.”

Geoffrey Maynard, who will retire this spring after 24 years in the U.S. Navy and is looking to the next phase of his career, attended The American Legion’s résumé workshop in the morning and the employment fair in the afternoon.

“To have so many employers available all at once like that as a resource is outstanding,” Maynard said of the job fair. “As a jobseeker, I spend hours researching, looking online, checking job sites. To have this in front of me today is fantastic.

“Any jobseeker knows that face-to-face contact, that meeting point, goes a long way, compared to someone looking at your résumé or some application he came across from the Internet.”

At the job fair’s opening ceremony, Ely Ross – director of Veterans Affairs in the office of Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser – presented American Legion Executive Director Verna Jones with a proclamation honoring the Legion’s 58th annual Washington Conference.

After receiving the proclamation, Jones reiterated the Legion’s dedication to helping veterans join the workforce. “Nothing can be more important than taking care of our nation’s heroes,” she said. “These men and women have fought for us and our freedom to do the things that we do. And being here today to offer them jobs, and make sure they’re not unemployed or underemployed, it just a great way to say thank you and give back."

Mills had praise for The American Legion for making veterans employment one of its priorities.

“I think it’s a good program simply because a lot of employers say, ‘We’re veteran friendly,’” Mills said. “But then you turn around and look at how a lot of veterans are unemployed. For The American Legion to take that step and partner up with employers to make it more easy for them to understand (veterans’) uniqueness and what we can bring to the table, I think it’s a win-win for both sides.

“I’m glad (The American Legion) decided to do that. It will give us a leg up … give us a chance to show our skills and hopefully get some opportunities we might not get.”