Job fair helps veterans find civilian employment
LATHAM Shawn Murphy expects to retire from the U.S. Marine Corps in early 2014, but the 37-year-old Latham resident can’t retire from daily work.
He met potential employers Wednesday at “Hiring Our Heroes,” a job fair designed especially for veterans, military personnel and their spouses.
About 70 businesses — including General Electric, Amtrak, Southwest Airlines, DeCrescente Distributing and Staples — sent representatives to the Division of Military and Naval Affairs’ headquarters in Latham. About 250 people with military ties, dressed in suits, formal military uniforms, foliage-green camouflage outfits and casual clothing, browsed tables and asked questions during the three-hour session.
“It’s a comfortable environment to be in,” said Murphy, a gunnery sergeant based at the Leo W. O’Brien Federal Building in downtown Albany. “They’re looking for me. That’s a lot more comfortable in the long run.”
The “Hiring Our Heroes” project, organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, started in March 2011. During the past 21⁄2 years, according to project officials, more than 1,200 companies have hired 20,200 veterans and spouses. The process entailed more than 610 hiring fairs, two of which took place in Albany County in 2012.
Veterans can have more trouble in job searches than their civilian counterparts.
“[Civilians are] here all the time, they’re going on interviews and meeting with employers,” said Kathryn Poynton, director of hiring fairs for the Washington-based project.
“Your veterans are deployed, they’re coming back, coming back to maybe a community that’s changed in the past year that they were gone. It’s a chance for them to re-integrate back into the community. Your military spouses, every two or three years, they’re moving. So it’s hard for them to establish themselves into a community when within two years they’re uprooting and going to a brand-new community and having to basically start over.”
Poynton, a retired lieutenant colonel in the New York Army National Guard, thinks the fairs work because veterans and employers want the same things.
“The basic, simple purpose is to find jobs for veterans and military spouses, to link them back to their communities,” she said. “Every employer that’s in here wants to hire veterans or they wouldn’t be here.”
Some job-seekers are part-time employees in Guard units. Others, like Murphy, will be retiring soon. Poynton said these men and women want to see what kinds of positions are available. “It’s kind of like a fact-finding mission,” she said.
Timothy Lake, 26, of Rotterdam Junction, has been trying to find a better job for the past two years. A four-year Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, Lake said he knows computers. But he’s currently working at a convenience store.
The job fair gave him the chance to network and pick up some tips for his résumé. “It’s very frustrating,” he said of his search. “I’m just looking for somebody to give me the chance so I can get my foot in the door and prove myself.”
Nichole Mann, 32, a part-time member of the Air National Guard, sampled employers.
“Just seeing what’s available in the area,” said Mann, who lives in Glenville. “Ideally, I’d find something psychological, something that utilizes my degree.”
Aflac, the national supplemental insurance agency, is looking for agents and consultants. Margie A. Hicks, based in Johnstown, said her company knows what happens when veterans are on the job.
“They’re used to getting up and going to work,” she said. “They’re hard-working and determined people. They’re used to challenges. They’re the perfect fit for us.”
By late morning, the Albany Fire Department had already talked to 30 veterans interested in jobs as firefighters. Deputy Fire Chief Michael Cox said people appointed to the department must first pass a civil service test, and the next one may not be offered until March. While Albany cannot offer immediate jobs, Cox said, firefighters told veterans about opportunities in other parts of the Capital Region. “It’s kind of an awareness factor for these guys as well,” he said.
Taylor Wells, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran from Cooperstown, appreciated the chance to make connections.
“You make your own success; you make your own luck,” he said. “This is an opportunity to do that.”