Monterey job fair reaches out to veterans
Posted: 06/08/2012 05:56:26 PM PDT
Bravo, a veteran, is accompanied by his service dog, who helps with the post-traumatic stress disorder he developed in combat as a Marine infantryman in Somalia in 1993.
"When I go to interviews, she's like the white elephant in the room," Bravo said of his brown-eyed companion, 2½-year-old Macy, a shepherd-lab mix. "I don't get many calls back when they see my service dog."
At a job fair Friday in Monterey, Bravo and other local disabled veterans had a chance to talk to employers, part of an effort to close the gap that often exists between the skills of veterans and the perceptions of them in the private sector.
That gap is compounded by the economy — in the sluggish job market, veterans are facing an even tougher challenge than their civilian counterparts, recent statistics show.
Last year, the unemployment rate for veterans ages 25-35 was at 13.4 percent nationally, well over the 9.5 percent rate of their civilian peers. Nearly a third of veterans in the 18-24 age bracket were unemployed.
"There's a problem," said Jack Kirwan, chief of the Veteran Services of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
Connecting veterans and local businesses — the mission of Friday's Project Hired career fair — is a key element in the effort
Bravo said it's frustrating how potential employers shy away once they meet him. They can see he has a service-related knee injury, but the PTSD is invisible. They ask if he really needs his service dog all the time.
"I tell them it's like having a cane," said Bravo, who said he delayed seeking treatment for PTSD because he thought of himself as too tough — a Marine. But the personal problems the disorder wreaked in his life forced him to get help, and ultimately, to get Macy. Petting her helps focus him and takes him out of the waves of PTSD-related stress that hit him. When he has nightmares, she wakes him up by licking his face.
Despite explaining Macy to potential employers, he said, they often don't get it. One local prosthetics manufacturer told him at an interview that they were concerned the dog would be frightened by noise in the shop. When Bravo, decked out in his interview clothes, went into the shop to demonstrate that he could do the work and that Macy didn't mind the noise, he said, even that didn't convince the company.
"I guess they're just afraid of the unknown," said Bravo, a Marina resident with a peaceful demeanor.
Another challenge veterans face, Kirwan said, is showing how their military experience translates to civilian work. There's clear overlap in skills, and values that the private sector could use, he said, including teamwork, leadership and an ease with using technology.
But transitioning to other federal agencies can be easier than jumping into a private-sector job for some veterans.
"You really do get lucky when you find a veteran to hire," said Braxton Toy, a veteran and human resources manager for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Ames Research Center, who recruited job seekers at the Project Hired career fair Friday. "They walk in the door and they're ready to work."
But the switch to civilian work isn't always smooth, particularly in a competitive job market and a languid economic climate.
"If you're coming out into the civilian world, in California especially, what are you supposed to do?" said Lynn Slaughter-Naves, a Monterey Institute of International Studies student who volunteered at the career fair.
Slaughter-Naves enlisted in the Air Force straight out of high school in Wisconsin and served as a Russian cryptologic linguist to pay for college. She got out in 2006 and moved to California, waiting a year to become a resident to qualify for in-state tuition. Finding a job was tough.
"Even things that I had the skills for required a bachelor's (degree)," said Slaughter-Naves, who's about to graduate with an advanced degree in international human security and development.
Rene King, a job seeker at the career fair who was 18 when he joined the Army, said there's a Catch-22 involved — many young people getting out of the military don't have their degrees because they jumped in straight out of high school, and thus they can't get jobs.
King, 24, said he'd even been turned down for a job as a bell attendant at a hotel.
"It's just not easy to find a job," he said. "It seems like it's not about what you know, it's about who you know."
Kate Moser can be reached at 646-4487 or email@example.com.