Fair matches Iraq war vets with jobs

Joe Groven
Joe Groven, 20, returned from his National Guard tour in Iraq within the past several weeks, and is now looking for work.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Inside the main hall of the Earle Brown Heritage Center, Joe Groven, 20, is attempting to find out what it might be like to work for Prudential Insurance Co.

Groven looks young for someone who's only recently back from nearly a year in Iraq with the Minnesota National Guard. Groven plans to get married next spring and start college in the fall of 2008. But until then, he says he needs a job, even if it turns out to be temporary.

Veterans job fair
Hundreds of military veterans turned out for a job fair in Brooklyn Center today specifically focused on helping them find jobs.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"I am looking for full-time work right now. I'll probably move down to a part-time job if they allow it," Groven says.

Another young man who has been back from Iraq for about a year is also scoping out potential employers. Dustin Shugren has been working a landscape job for the past several months, and now wants to find something less seasonal.

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Shugren read about the job fair in the newspaper. He was happy to find 100 employers offering jobs ready to be filled.

"It's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel," Shugren says. "You're almost guaranteed to get one. So hopefully I'll find a good job."

Looking for work
Iraqi war veteran Dustin Shugren says he's been working a landscape job for the past several months and now wants to find a more permanent job.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Employers from Northwest Airlines to Cub Foods and the Franklin St. Bakery offered a wide variety of employment options.

The bakery has several jobs it's trying to fill.

"We're currently looking for a lead maintenance, we have a few openings for production supervisors and production assistants," says the bakery's Rossanna Castellanos.

This is the first job fair for the Franklin Bakery. People with military experience might have some of the qualities she's looking for, Castellanos says.

"Mainly it's the leadership abilities that we're looking for and hoping to find. I think that they will bring a lot of that to any company that they come to," says Castellanos.

Rossanna Castellanos
Rossanna Castellanos from the Franklin St. Bakery was at the job fair, looking for prospective employees.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

The booth next to the Franklin St. Bakery was occupied by Garda AT Systems, a cash management company that provides vault and armored car services. George Lynch flew in from southern Florida to staff the booth.

Lynch, formerly a Marine Corps recruiter, says he regularly travels the country looking for vets to hire. Vets are a cut above the people he recruits from among the general population.

"Security-minded individuals who can remain vigilant, and understand the importance and responsibility of what they're doing are certainly attractive candidates to us," says Lynch. "Many of our veterans and those that have served in the military obviously have those qualities that have been developed up to this point. We'd like to put them to good use within our organization."

Newly returning vets often flock to security-related jobs, but there are many applications in the civilian work world where their military training can be useful, says Jim Finley of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Jim Finley
Jim Finley of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development says interest in the job fair exceeded expectations, and underscores the demand employers have for vets.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

The department put together the job fair to meet a federal mandate. The interest in the event exceeded the department's expectations, says Finley, and underscores the demand for veterans.

"They've got a lot of the soft skills that they bring to the job that employers are looking for," Finley says. "Dependability. The fact that they stick to a job until it's done. They're flexible. They're great leaders. They play well on a team -- all things that employers look desperately for in a lot of cases, and they aren't always able to find. Veterans come with all that stuff on board."

Besides meeting with employers, those who turned out for the job fair had a chance to get help with their resumes and attend a workshop about how military know-how can be translated into civilian work.