Cedar Rapids job fair focuses on veterans

Aug 20, 2013

Nationally, unemployment rates for veterans are in decline, but the highest rates of joblessness are suffered by soldiers most recently returned from deployment.

Back home, finding a job can be a challenge--whether it be finding the right words for a resume, or getting re-certified for the civilian equivalent of a military job.

"I think the biggest barrier is transitioning skills they built in the military to the civilian career force," said Sergeant Rebecca Egli, who left the military in January after ten years and two deployments.

"I’m not just a truck driver, I managed supplies, I helped with loads and cargo and the logistics behind it as well."

But veterans also have a unique skill set that can be appealing to employers as well.

About 50 veterans attended a "Hiring our Heroes" job fair at the Cedar Rapids National Guard Armory on Tuesday. Another is planned for mid-November, at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

At the Rockwell Collins table, Diversity Manger Tim Carson is a veteran himself. He says about 10% of the defense contractor’s workforce is former military personnel.

"Veterans also are the end user of our product. They are customers of ours and our best critics," Carson said.

Over the past few years, the Department of Defense has designed programs to match veterans' job skills to the civilian workforce and reach out to employers. Carson says private companies, including Rockwell Collins, have similar initiatives internally.

"I also think it's a disservice to our nation when we invest so much time and money in training our military personnel, and then they come out and they actually have to set that aside and be retrained," Carson said.

Sergeant Kelly Olemann, a former military police officer, says employers are not always equipped to accommodate veteran's disabilities.

Olemann suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and knee and back injuries. She says finding and keeping a job has been difficult. Most recently, an employer fired her for being late. She says she slept in because of her medication.

"People don't understand the types of disabilities veterans have. Some of them aren't visible. They seem to think people should just get over it," Olemann said.