Events throughout the state and country honor military veterans this weekend. California is home to more than 2 million veterans, the largest concentration in the country. The state’s Employment Development Department says that each year, more than 30,000 men and women leave military service and return to civilian life in California.
For the past 5 years, the EDD has joined forces with other agencies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to sponsor job fairs designed to match unemployed veterans with potential employers.
Hundreds of veterans circulated through the most recent job fair on Thursday at the Proud Bird Event Center near Los Angeles International Airport.
“Many companies have always had a veterans priority of some sort,” said Michael Dolphin, who heads the EDD’s Workforce Services Division in L.A. and Ventura Counties. “They might not have trumpeted it or made it a promotional priority, but they are now.”
Amid the engineering firms, cable companies, supermarket chains and others businesses with recruiting tables at the job fair were service agencies offering guidance to veterans entering the job market. Dolphin said that’s a reponse to something he’s heard from many of the companies that recruit veterans. Skills may be an issue, but “sometimes the issue is also helping prepare a better job applicant,” said Dolphin, an Army veteran of the Vietnam war.
“So when that person walks in the door, they’re more educated, not in an academic sense, but more educated about what ‘ABC Company’ is.”
While a lot of people have lined up at job fairs during the recession and slow recovery, the events have also generated skepticism over whether they lead to employment. David Austin said the job fairs for veterans are very important, and his story offers an example of why.
Austin was staffing the recruitment table of Time Warner Cable, where he works as a senior account executive. He served in the Marines and was deployed to Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. He found his job at the cable company two years ago at a similar hiring event for veterans in Woodland Hills:
“I was unemployed for a little under two years. I was on my last couple of checks from the EDD, ” recalled Austin, who lives in Lake Balboa with his wife and two sons. “Honestly, nobody was returning my phone calls. I was getting ready to lose my house, and I was literally at my rope’s end. And then Time Warner scooped me up.”
At Time Warner Cable, Austin has helped sell the company’s services to the military for defense contracts and he co-founded an internal network of employees who are veterans. He said a lot more jobs are available at the company now than he when he applied two years ago.
Santa Monica-based American Solar Direct also sought employees at the job fair. Recruiter Steve Earnhart said the residential solar leasing company needs photovoltaic installers and sales representatives. At the last veterans job fair, he found 10 employees.
“A lot of the technical things that veterans tend to touch during their service is a huge advantage to have,” Earnhart said. “ They’re used to working in teams, that’s a big advantage. A lot of these guys and gals come out with a lot of leadership skills, so transitioning to what we do is typically a great fit.”
32 year old Army veteran Jumaane Robinson walked up to Earnhart’s table, eager to show that he was studying solar engineering at the Harbor Occupational Learning Center. The exchange held promise for Robinson, who lives in Carson.
“Solar is just one of the things that I do,” Robinson said. He added that he’s had a tough time finding work because not all companies are eager to hire veterans.
“To have went to war and have to come back out and have to struggle after I fought for my country is ridiculous to me,” he said. Robinson is a single dad with three kids in North Carolina, where he was stationed at Fort Bragg.
“My kids talk about all the time how they want to joint the military and be a part of this country,” he said. “They’re YOUNG patriots. They’re middle school kids. So they look up to me. They’re always asking me about my military experience so maybe one day, one of them might want to join and fight for their country. If they do, And when they get out, they should be able to get a job.”