Local event combats veteran unemployment

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published July 31, 2014

 Ryan Belche, a veteran of the Army, talks with Parnell Williams, HR manager for the Detroit People Mover, at the Hiring Our Heroes job fair July 22.

Ryan Belche, a veteran of the Army, talks with Parnell Williams, HR manager for the Detroit People Mover, at the Hiring Our Heroes job fair July 22.

Photo by Deb Jacques

SOUTHFIELD — The roar of people chatting about their experiences and qualities could be heard from the hallway of the Southfield Pavillion Tuesday, July 22, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes event.

Hiring Our Heroes is a nonprofit arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is designed to help veterans young and old to find stable jobs.

“Basically, we know we have to address the problem of veteran unemployment,” said Central Regional Associate of Hiring Our Heroes Leo Cruz.  “Veterans that are under the age of 25 come home to nearly 20 percent unemployment.”

The event featured an employment workshop by the University of Phoenix at 8:30 a.m., followed by a hiring fair that lasted to 1 p.m. There were over 100 employers seeking veteran workers.

Cruz explained that the workshop featured information on résumé-writing and interviewing skills, as well as how to make an “elevator pitch,” which he described as selling yourself to a prospective employer in the time it takes to ride an elevator.

Most veterans, Cruz said, don’t know how to write a résumé, translating their military skills into civilian ones.

“Most of these folks signed up right after 9-11 to boot camp, served their country, did two or three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are now coming home, and this is the first time they’re actually applying for a civilian job ever,” Cruz said.

The event was also open to veterans’ spouses, who were there seeking jobs, along with helping their significant others find jobs.

Allecia Gates, whose fiancé is a veteran of the U.S. Army, attended the event seeking a better job for her fiancé.

Gates said her fiancé is currently employed, but his job does not offer any benefits or paid time off.

“It’s still a process and it’s a long one, so you have to keep encouraging him not to give up,” Gates said. “Right now, he is currently working, so he’s grateful for that, but hopefully he can continue to expand that and get something better.”

Michelle Jones, who is with the U.S. Department of State and is the diplomat in residence at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, said veterans make great employees because they possess skills some of the civilian public do not.

“We find that veterans have a lot of flexibility. Most of them have significant overseas travel,” Jones said.  “Very open to different cultures, some of them speak different languages and they have a really good, balanced attitude to life. They don’t get bent out of shape when things go wrong.”

Cruz said changing the way veterans perceive themselves is crucial in landing a job.

“They had to report to their superiors, engage with the locals,” Cruz said. “They were basically the U.S. military’s customer service representative, but they don’t think like that.”