Job fair in Vancouver aims to help veterans find work

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Cantwell directs vets to program

Military veterans in Washington state may sign up for job training thanks to the federal Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, which launches July 1. In a news release, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., encouraged veterans to sign up for the program.

The federal Department of Labor and the Department of Veterans Affairs began taking applications Tuesday. If accepted, qualified veterans age 35 or older will receive $1,473 per month to offset the cost of job training at a community or technical college. They will train in 200 “high-demand” fields, including as a machinist or electrician.

The job training program is part of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in November 2011. Veterans who want more information about the program may go to Veterans Retraining Assistance Program.

— Aaron Corvin

For many people, the door leading back into the job market won’t budge. For some military veterans, however, that door may seem like it doesn’t exist.

Nationally, unemployment among 18- to 24-year-old male veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan was 29.1 percent in 2011, data show. It was 17.6 percent for the same non-veteran group.

In Clark County, unemployment is estimated at 25.5 percent for 18- to 34-year-old veterans. Their non-veteran counterparts? 17.5 percent.

Locally, work force training leaders are trying to improve the dismal situation faced by some veterans. To that end, the Vancouver office of WorkSource — a statewide program that connects job seekers to employers — will roll out the “Jobs for Veterans” fair on Thursday, aiming to play matchmaker for Southwest Washington military veterans and employers.

The event, which typically takes place twice annually, will run from 9 a.m. to noon at the Armed Forces Reserve Center, 15005 N.E. 65th St. in Vancouver. For more information, call Mike Benko, local veterans employment representative for WorkSource, at 360-735-4981 or mbenko@esd.wa.gov.

Event organizers say they hope to have at least 200 veterans on hand. Meanwhile, 54 private and public employers, schools and other agencies will attend the job fair. They range from Columbia Machine and Underwriters Laboratories to Home Depot and Tidewater Barge Lines.

Benko said there’s interest among some employers in hiring veterans, both out of a sense of patriotism but also because many veterans have developed attractive skills while serving in the military.

However, some veterans — especially younger ones who’ve served in Iraq or Afghanistan — struggle to catch on with an employer.

That’s partly because many of them joined the military right out of high school, Benko said, and their specialized military skills don’t necessarily transfer easily to a civilian job.

In some cases, he said, they need help translating their résumés, typically filled with military terms, into language civilian employers can understand.

Jim Johnson, staffing manager for Madden Industrial Craftsmen Inc., a temporary staffing firm that will attend Thursday’s job fair, has clients — including in Southwest Washington — that are looking for mechanics, machinists and millwrights.

Most of his clients are set up to hire on a temporary basis, Johnson said, but sometimes they’ll transition a worker from temporary to permanent status.

“I think they want to hire permanent personnel,” he said, “but they’re just being a little cautious” as the economy, while it has slowly recovered, still shows signs of weakness.

Johnson said military veterans generally form a strong pool of skills and education. They also often demonstrate maturity and discipline, much-needed qualities in a worker, he said.