Hiring Orlando vets

Job fairs such as Hiring Our Heroes pair veterans with recruiters specifically seeking to hire former soldiers.

Job fairs such as Hiring Our Heroes pair veterans with recruiters specifically seeking to hire former soldiers.

Brittni Larson

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When veterans leave the military, they face the very real challenge of finding work again. One program is making the transition from military work to a civilian career a little easier, by giving veterans and their spouses the opportunity to interact with hiring employers face-to-face at Hiring Our Heroes job fairs, held across the country.

More than 30 employers attended the job fair in Orlando on Jan. 23, where many veterans and their spouses mingled with hiring managers, handing out resumes and, hopefully, making an impression that could land a job.

“They’re a unique breed of men and women and they have voluntarily served our country, it’s the least we can do to serve them,” said Ernie Lombardi, a Marine veteran and the Southeast regional associate for the Hiring Our Heroes program put on by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “They provided a lot of sacrifices in their own personal lives to serve our country, to protect our country, to protect our freedoms.”

“We’re looking to serve them instead of them serving us,” said Jessica Schlach, a recruiter for First Command, an employer at the job fair.

The program began in March 2011 and has helped 21,600 veterans and military spouses obtain jobs at more than 660 job fairs. In addition to employment opportunities, the fairs have one-on-one mentoring to help with resume building, job search tools and interviewing techniques.

Jacqueline Rogers, who was in the Army for 10 years and now has her own human resources business, was one of the mentors there. She said it’s hard to transition from military to civilian life — the language employers use is different, the people are different, and it’s tough to get back out there.

“They haven’t had to look for a job in a long time; they don’t know how to do it,” she said.

Mark Adame, who traveled from Kansas for the fair, said he still struggles to explain how the skills he learned during his 21-year Air Force career as an enlisted flier can translate to a civilian job he’s interviewing for. It’s easier to do so in person, which is why the fair was so valuable to him. And organizers also helped him focus his resume so those skills are clear on paper.

Attendee Eric Hanley, who lives in Longwood and was in the Marines for four years, said that when he first left the military, it was hard to relate to people who hadn’t had that experience. People talk to each other differently — as a young construction manager he got a few eye rolls from his employees, something he’d never see from a Marine.

“You’re basically conformed to a certain lifestyle … everybody that you dealt with was under the same understanding,” Hanley said.

There’s a sense of respect, loyalty and focus that comes with military service, Hanley said.

When veterans do land a job, they have unique skills they’ve learned from their service, veterans and employers agreed.

“They’re team players, they’re mission oriented, they’re highly trained in the skill set they bring to the table … these veterans and military spouses, they understand what it takes to accomplish a task that’s given,” Lombardi said.

“They understand that not only do you have a mission, but you adapt to changes, because life has a lot of changes,” said David Opperman with First Command. “They have that skillset that’s kind of hardwired by being in the service.”

And the employers at the job fair in Orlando, and their more than 1,000 counterparts across the country, see the value in a military background. While they may not have a college degree, nothing compares to the hands-on experience veterans have, Adame said.

“It provides a target audience,” he said. “Employers here, they know they’re going to get someone who’s proven themselves.”