- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2012

Army reservist Ryan Nelson has been to more than 20 job fairs in the past few months, hoping to get stable employment, but he is finding it difficult to make the transition from a military career to civilian work.

By now, Mr. Nelson, 24, is a familiar face to many recruiters in Washington. He moved here in August to study for his master’s degree, but he would also like to find a job in intelligence or program management.

“I’ve spoken to pretty much everyone in here at some point,” he said Wednesday at a job fair aimed at helping veterans and their families, held at the Washington Nationals baseball stadium, one of a string of such job-related meet-and-greets for vets held across the U.S. this week. “After job hunting for a few months, it’s hard to see how speaking with someone … has any benefit, because they just say, ‘Go to the website.’ So it’s starting to wear me down.”

That’s the same sentiment many military veterans express when they begin looking for other employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate among veterans was 6.3 percent in October, down from 7.7 percent during the same period in 2011.

So the U.S. Chamber of Commerce started a series of job fairs, known as Hiring Our Heroes, that focuses on helping former military members and their spouses find work. Since it began in March 2011, Hiring Our Heroes has hosted nearly 400 job fairs throughout the country. They are free for both employers and job seekers. On Wednesday, more than 400 candidates and 87 companies participated.

Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said military veterans make great employees because of their background. “You learn how to lead and be led. You learn how to deal with difficulties.”

Mr. Nelson was optimistic about his job prospects, because he thinks recruiters at Hiring our Heroes, hosted by the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, recognize his military talents.

“I appreciate the fact it is centered on veterans,” he said. “It’s easier to market military skills here. People here know what they’re looking for and speak the same language.”

But just as Mr. Nelson is struggling to find work, so are many military spouses. Ricardo Hamer, 32, followed the Army here in October from his previous post in Georgia, but finding work in their new city has not been so easy for wife Jessica, 29, who is looking for a medical job. “It’s been difficult trying to find a job for her,” Mr. Hamer said.

For families that depend on two incomes, they might be able to count on the military job, but there is no guarantee they will obtain a second source of income at each post.

According to the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, military families move 14 percent more often than other families. Darryl Fitzgerald, account manager at MSEP, said 85 percent of military spouses want to work, but face a 26 percent unemployment rate, largely as a result of constant relocation.

According to MSEP, 84 percent of military spouses have some college experience, and 25 percent have a bachelor’s degree.

“A lot of military spouses are well educated. But because they followed their spouse, they weren’t able to follow their chosen career field,” Ms. Fitzgerald said. “They’ve been working to help advance their husband’s careers. They’ve taken a back seat.”

Hans Graefe, another account manager with MSEP, said his organization tries to place military spouses with businesses that offer portable careers, so they can transfer within the company as they move from location to location. He said military families tend to relocate every three to four years.

“Whenever a spouse relocates, guess what, they’ve got to start from the bottom,” he said.

Rachel Tice, career development specialist at the Major Group, is a military spouse who found her job at a Hiring Our Heroes job fair in September after moving here from California.

Now, she’s looking to hire other military spouses. She said they make great employees, because of the qualities they bring to the job.

“You have to be adaptable in this way of life. Most organizations, they don’t want you to do just one thing, they want you to juggle multiple responsibilities.”

Vanessa Tongue of Maryland is a military spouse who is looking for a job in the legal field. She said she has learned to pick up where her husband leaves off when he goes on deployments, whether it be paying the bills or mowing the lawn.

“I’m excited they’re willing to hire military spouses,” she said. “We’re the backbone of the family.”

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