Businesses eager to hire veterans at Concord job fair
By Lou Fancher
A five-year span between “Honor a Hero, Hire a Vet” job fairs reveals positive progressive change, but also, room for improving services and opportunities for military veterans re-entering the civilian workforce.
In 2012, a Concord fair hosted by the Employment Development Department of Workforce Services for Contra Costa overwhelmingly featured higher education institutions, and emphasized veterans’ access to college degrees and re-writing their resumes for civilian job applications.
In 2017, vendors at a June 7 job fair at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Concord already knew how to translate veterans’ hard and soft military skills to match the requirements of civilian jobs.
While there were educators present — Diablo Valley College, Cal State East Bay, UC Berkeley — among the approximately 75 vendors, there were more corporations and businesses actively recruiting veterans.
“We certainly do seek veterans,” said Tariena Zafar, a recruiter for Kaiser Permanente. “Not only have they served their country, they’re often looking for more work within and to benefit the community. They bring accountability, self-respect, respect for the job, integrity and passion.”
Human resources manager Nancy Tavares said the 110-year-old company she represents, Oakland-based AB&I Foundry, values not only veterans’ hard-to-find metal working skills, but their work ethic.
“They know precision manufacturing skills and work harder than average,” she said.
At Lawrence Livermore National Labs, nuclear mechanical engineer JD McDaniel knows all sides of the equation. After serving eight years in the Navy on a submarine stationed out of Pearl Harbor, he successfully re-entered the work force, but only with help from his wife.
“She helped me put my job skills on paper,” he said.
Asked if there aren’t services available for honorably discharged veterans, McDaniel said there are, but they are lacking.
“The art of transitioning military skills for civilian employers isn’t well taught. They need to devote more time to it and have veterans who’ve done it help new vets. A resume-building class would be critical.”
To offset the limitations, McDaniel and co-workers at the lab recently launched a Veterans in Energy, Technology and Science initiative to help transitioning veterans.
Ben Mendez, of Concord, said his five years in the U.S. Army satisfied his preference for a physical, people-oriented job.
“I was in the military police. I learned how to talk to people with presence that’s professional, confident. I haven’t had pushback about being a veteran; employers say they love hiring veterans.”
Indeed, Mendez’ stop at San Leandro-based Western Roofing Service’s table drew immediate response.
“We hire veterans because they’ve managed people and done multifaceted jobs,” said assistant superintendent Antonio Ramirez. “They can allocate responsibilities. They commit to a job and we like to hire someone who’ll stay for 20 years and thrive.”
Commitment and longevity made deputy Tiffany Garrett a good hire for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, according to recruiting consultant Frank Buschhueter.
“Military recruits are aware of danger and meet fitness requirements to last for a long, physical career,” he said.
Garrett said that having already put her life on the line and experienced sacrifice, she sought civilian employment that included that and more.
“I wanted to be part of a group, to continue to have that bond that comes from working together in the trenches,” she said.
The most symbiotic illustration of how employer and veteran find mutual benefits came at human resources specialist Maureen Silva’s table. Working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Silva said there is a difference in patient care when a veteran is involved.
“A nurse or doctor veteran treating a veteran patient can pull out things a non-veteran can’t,” she said. “They know or have felt those underlying issues. It’s better care and that’s what we’re recruiting for.”
Justin Kerns of Antioch, a nursing student working as an EMT who was in the Army for 10 years, said his goal is to become one of those nurses. After three tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, he returned to jobs in construction and retail.
“The stigma that military skills don’t translate is still there. Knowing weapons isn’t something that employers want, but being able to lead in a stressful situation is necessary everywhere.”
Although he found work, the urge for employment with more purpose and an illness from which he has recovered caused his decision to pursue nursing school.
“Medical people don’t talk to veterans right. You have to be open. If a guy has PTSD, you can’t just send him off to therapy. Each veteran is a person and should be treated that way.”
EDD program manager Loretta Bisio said the number of people seeking jobs — the fair was open to veterans and the general public — has dropped from about 600 in 2015 to the 300 she projected would attend this year’s fair.
Attributing the lesser number of applicants in part to an improved economy, Bisio said vendors’ increased awareness about the desirability of veterans in the job force is a factor in less applicants and more veterans with jobs.