Jobs, resources connect with veterans at ECC event
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News May 22, 2012 8:06PM
FedEx representatives (from left) Anne Parel of Carol Stream, Karen Penning of St. Louis and Rati Dhake of Chicago talk with Betty Nissen of Transitional Living Services for veterans, military and their families Tuesday during the Second Annual Veterans' Summit Job and Resource Fair in the Spartan Events Center at Elgin Community College. May 22, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 2, 2012 9:27AM
ELGIN — The skills that veterans learn during military service are what employers want, but sometimes veterans need help translating those skills on their resumés, said Anitra King, veterans specialist at Elgin Community College.
With an estimated 37,000 unemployed veterans in Illinois, job fairs such as the one held Tuesday at the school are a way to connect those men and women with employers, officials said.
The second-annual Veterans’ Summit Job and Resource Fair also sought to connect veterans to the resources they need to re-enter post-military life.
About 150 veterans — some students at ECC and others from the community — attended the event, said Peggy Gundrum, director of career services.
“This is not just for student veterans but for the community,” Gundrum said.
At some job fairs, employers take resumés but don’t have openings to fill. That was a requirement of the 64 employers who attended, King said — that they had jobs which needed workers.
Another 35 service and benefit providers also attended to get information into the hands of those veterans.
King works with veterans who need to sign up for their education and other benefits. “I am here to answer questions and point them to resources they may never have heard of,” King said.
Currently, 378 U.S. veterans are taking classes at the college — from Vietnam-era vets to those who signed up post-9/11, she said. King will walk them through the process of signing up for their benefits, and tries to be reachable when they come to a roadblock or question on the application process, she said.
Veterans get a rundown of the resources available to them when they leave the service, she said. But with anything where there is an overload of information, after awhile it becomes “blah, blah, blah,” King said. She helps make sense of the overwhelming amount of information thrown at them.
One of the resources available Tuesday was the Mobile Vet Center. A converted coach bus, the center is one of 50 units that travel nationwide providing readjustment counseling services for veterans who served in combat and their families.
David Cozart, an 18-year U.S. Army veteran, was working in the Mobile Vet Center during the job fair. The bus is used to reach out to veterans in particularly rural areas,but is also used for outreach during events such as the job fair, he said.
“It is easier going to the veterans versus them coming to you,” Cozart said.
Having another veteran to talk to and get advice on reintegrating into civilian life can be very helpful, Cozart said. He remembers having conversations with World War II veterans when he returned from combat duty.
“They have good information on how to deal with life in general,” Cozart said.
But getting today’s younger veterans to talk about what they need and the struggles they might be having is always difficult, he said.
His suggestion is not to put pamphlets directly in the veterans hands but to leave them where he or she will see them and pick them up on their own. “If we see something inviting to us … it will catch our eye,” Cozart said. “If you tell us to ‘read that,’ we are not going to read it. It is like a late-night infomercial — we will find it.”
Cozart and others are also willing to sit down with a soldier’s resumé and translate what that person did in the military to the skills employers want. A title such as “supply sergeant” means that, in the military, they were the ones doing inventory and ordering, transactions and delivery.
“We can turn military experience into marketable skills,” added Lisa Wallace from the DuPage County Veterans Center. “We do career counseling as well.”