SouthfieldOctober 15, 2013
Veterans’ Commission sees future for Hiring Our Heroes event
By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer
SOUTHFIELD — Times were different during Southfield resident Gregory Pulliam’s day of military service, he said. More specifically, life after service was different.
“It was difficult,” he said about returning home in 1964 after four years in the Air Force. “But it wasn’t impossible.”
Being accepted into an apprenticeship at Chrysler right after returning was something that was relatively easy for him then, he explained, but securing job placement post-service is a tougher battle for newer veterans.
That’s among the reasons he was motivated to help organize the recent Hiring Our Heroes job fair at the Southfield Pavilion Oct. 8. The event returned for a second year and is an initiative by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which partners with community organizations to host the fair around the country.
“Personally, I think it’s beneficial for veterans before during the time I was in service, which was a couple years before Vietnam, industries and corporations and what have you, they had a little more respect for veterans,” Pulliam, a founding member of the Southfield Veterans’ Commission, said. “As a veteran, if you were employed prior to going in, the company kept your job slot open when you came back.”
Nowadays, after World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam-era he experienced, combined with the post 9/11-era of war newer veterans experienced, Pulliam said returning soldiers are pitted as the enemy and the sense of allegiance toward each other has faded.
He thinks that is one of the reasons that the veteran unemployment rate is still at about 7.3 percent, after dropping from 12.7 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
With the exposure and opportunity Pulliam received at Chrysler, he went into the electrical field, where he worked nearly 38 years, he added.
Tim Wirkus, a current Birmingham resident who used to be a member of the Southfield Veterans’ Commission, said some of the current challenges to address include matching veterans’ experiences with relevant positions and duties.
“You look at something like carrying a rifle up a hill in the infantry: How does that translate?” said Wirkus, who spent 1967-70 in the Air Force, with two years in Vietnam. “It’s a lot of connecting. Sometimes, military skills don’t quite translate into civilian life.”
That charging up the hill suggests leadership and organization, he explained, and sometimes fine-tuning résumés, brushing up on interview skills and matching prospective employers are the push local veterans need to re-enter the workforce.
Events like Hiring Our Heroes aim to do those exact things, and the job fair has had success not just in Southfield but across the nation since it launched in March 2011.
Wirkus, who also helped organize the local event, said that more than 100 employers and 20 service organizations were at the job fair to speak with and take applications from approximately 500 attendees this year. In the first year, 60 employers and 300 attendees came out.
Local companies from the metro Detroit area, regional corporations like Ford and General Motors, federal government employers like the U.S. Border Patrol, and statewide employers like the Grand Rapids police were among the booth this year.
Colleges and universities, as well as nonprofit organizations and consulting firms, were on hand, too.
Wirkus said the event is also beneficial from an educational standpoint to help curb the stigma that veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or other emotional problems.
He said that spreading awareness about veterans’ experience can be a double-edged sword in that regard and is just one of the examples of obstacles that keep servicemen and women in a state of unemployment after they finish their duties.
Younger veterans from the recent wartime era have an even higher jobless rate, he noted, at more than 20 percent.
“Sometimes, adjustment to life is hard enough without having to find a job,” he added.
According to Wirkus, with the success and growth of the event between the first and second year, the commission has already begun planning for the 2014 fair.
Hiring Our Heroes reports having connected more than 1,200 companies with 20,200 newly employed veterans and military spouses as a result of more than 600 hiring fairs. A current goal stands to hire 500,000 heroes by the end of 2014.
The Southfield Veterans’ Commission is a nonprofit commission of the city of Southfield that provides education, employment services and benefits assistance to veterans in the area. For more information, call (248) 796-4838 or email
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