Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TOP STORY >> Job fair aims to help area vets

Leader staff writer

Despite looming federal budget cuts, more than 100 job seekers and at least 40 employers at the Hiring Our Heroes job fair on Tuesday in Sherwood were optimistic.

Company representatives found themselves hiring qualified applicants right away or looking forward to vetting out an excellent selection of highly skilled active servicemen and veterans for a handful of openings.

Job seekers were pleased to find such a wide variety of opportunities and resources available to help them make the transition from military to civilian life.

Bobby Sherron, a senior master sergeant with the Air National Guard who is retiring after 31 years of military service, said, “It’s going good. This is what I hoped for, someone to point me in the right direction.”

He continued, “The challenge is applying for jobs, interviewing, putting yourself out there.” Sherron said he was also struggling with figuring out exactly what field to get into.

The veteran has been a maintenance professional for decades, but doesn’t think that kind of physically demanding work will suit his aging body.

Tech. Sgt. Tessiah Graen, who lives in Cabot and works at Little Rock Air Force Base, agreed.

She said, “It’s very interesting. It’s a lot of information. I’m a bit nervous because we’re so used to the military telling us what to do.”

Dale Clinton of Premier Staffing, an employment agency in Little Rock, told Sherron he could help.

Clinton said some servicemen and veterans are afraid the skills they learned from serving in the military won’t be of any use in the civilian job market.

But they’re wrong, he said. Clinton said jobs are out there for veterans and servicemen with solid work histories and work ethics who can convey those qualities in a conversation.

Clinton said a lot of people who talked with him weren’t sure how to transfer from military to civilian life. Clinton said, “With budget cuts, the military probably can’t help with the transition as much.”

Through Premier Staffing, Clinton said, “Employers can try before they buy and employees can too.” He said the employment agency could give job seekers “a foot in the door,” a glance at what it’s like to work for a company before they make a commitment. Employers also use them to find people who are a good fit for their business.

Jason Minyard of the National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team said, “I’m pretty excited. There are a lot of employers here, a lot of opportunities I wasn’t aware of.”

Many of the employers were sending the job seekers to online databases and websites where they could submit applications for available positions.

At least one said face-to-face interaction is still an important part of applying for a job.

Store manager Sandy Wilke of JoS.A.Bank, a national men’s clothing chain with locations in Little Rock, Texarkana and Jonesboro, said, “Everything is computer-based. Come meet me. That makes you stand out.”

Wilke also told one of the job seekers that she searches every applicant on Google and looks at Facebook pages. Halfway through Tuesday’s event, Wilke had filled one of six openings the company had. She said there were two more candidates who had potential.

Deborah Parsons of Arvest Bank said there were a couple of job seekers who would be a good fit. She hopes to hear from them soon.

Parsons said a lot of the people who approached her were seeking opportunities in the information technology field.

Jacquelyn King of the University of Phoenix said people approached her about educational opportunities and job openings. She said the school offers both.

King said 60 percent of employers in the next few years would require new hires to have four-year degrees.

Daniel Hoggard Sr. of Tyson Foods said the plant in Pine Bluff has openings for maintenance workers, line people and management.

He said the advantage of hiring people with military backgrounds is, “We don’t have to teach them leadership. We don’t have to teach them work ethic, dependability, about wanting to be on a winning team. We’ve been impressed with the caliber of people visiting with us today.”

Enduring Freedom veteran Travis Smith said, “I think (the job fair was) a good opportunity for people looking at getting their feet planted somewhere.”

Participating employers and other entities included several offices under the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services, Entergy, First Command Financial Services’ Squared Away, Walmart, Sherwood Police Department, Sprint, Caterpillar, Simmons First.

Also Edward Jones Investments, AT&T, AutoZone, Harrison Energy Partners, American Income Life Insurance, Hot Springs Police Department, Regions Bank, Cintas, the Double Tree by Hilton, Riggs CAT, Union Pacific, the Hughes Agency, Star Transport, Tyson Foods, Texas Department of Public Safety, Walgreens, Optus, Cardinal Health, Acxiom and Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies.