Fairs aim to help Ala military vets build careers

April 25, 2012 

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Lt. Col. Ed Cagle spent 23 years in the U.S. Army before retiring as a combat engineer.

As part of his transition out of the military, the Birmingham man began a career search with about other 300 veterans who registered for a free job fair, Hiring Our Heroes, held Tuesday. The event was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Birmingham Business Alliance, the Birmingham Society for Human Resource Management and other sponsors.

"I'm a rookie at job hunting, but my take on the event is that it was very well organized and all of the booths I talked to had people who had an infectious attitude of wanting to help us and support our veterans," Cagle said.

Lt. Col. Kathryn Poynton, a military fellow with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Veterans Employment Program, said the chamber began its Hero2Hired employment program in early 2011 and soon began posting job listings from military-friendly employers seeking to hire veterans on its web site.

The original goal was to host 100 Hiring Our Heroes job fairs. This year, the U.S. Chamber will host 400 job fairs in cities across the country, including one taking place in Montgomery on Thursday.

"This year we will not only be in larger cities, but are taking it to small towns and rural communities across the country through partnerships with groups like the American Legion," Poynton said. "We've helped over 9,000 veterans get jobs so far."

Cagle said he spent the bulk of his career as a combat engineer and platoon leader, gaining skills on assignments from Iraq to Germany and Korea that he believes will serve him well in corporate America.

"I'm marketing my skills as a manager, the ability to solve complex life-threatening problems and to develop employees underneath me," Cagle said.

"There is an anxiety that settles in as we vets approach retirement, wondering if the public and employers will appreciate the sacrifices we made in our military service for their freedoms. I came away from this event knowing our service as veterans is appreciated."

Poynton credited Marcus Lundy, vice president of education and workforce development for the Birmingham Business Alliance, for helping the U.S. Chamber attract a solid list of employers. Among the 76 companies interviewing veterans Tuesday were banks such as Regions, Cadence and Wells Fargo, as well as AT&T, Ryder, UPS, O'Neal Steel, State Farm, UAB, Verizon Wireless, Manpower, Snelling Personnel and Express Oil Change.

Sam Sainker, vice president of store operations for Express Oil Change, and Charlie Seagle, human resources manager of Associated Grocers of the South, both said they were impressed by the quality of veteran applicants.

"We're always looking for people who have integrity and good leadership skills, and that's what we are finding here," Sainker said.

Lava Darby, head of the Darby Enterprises recruitment firm, said she found great candidates for the positions she is seeking to fill. "Veterans make great workers," she said.

The event included seminars designed to help veterans find jobs. Jim Herdt, head of Herdt Consulting, talked about how to convert military experience into a civilian resume. Melva Tate, president of the Tate & Associates human resources consulting firm, talked about how to get your resume noticed online by using job search Web sites and social media platforms. Andrea Lewis, president of Make You News, conducted a session called "Back to Boot Camp-Interview Training."

"The seminars were very well received by the veterans," Tate said.

Cedric Smith, who is about to retire after two decades in the Army, said he is hoping his experience a construction mechanic will entice someone to hire him.

"My goal is to build a good career, not just find a job," Smith said.

Dennis Beckham, a 30-year Army veteran preparing to leave the military, said he hopes to find a job working in security.

"I made some good contacts here today," he said.

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Information from: The Birmingham News, http://www.al.com/birminghamnews

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