SEBRING – U.S. Army National Guard veteran Roberto Maldonado moved alone to Highlands County about two months ago and hopes to bring the rest of his family to the area once he gets established - and that means finding work.
That’s what brought him and other military veterans from Highlands and surrounding counties to “Paychecks for Patriots,” a Florida employment effort to get employers with current openings in contact with military veterans seeking work.
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at CareerSource Heartland, 5901 South U.S. 27, Maldonado and 20 other veterans attended the job and career fair. Paychecks for Patriots is a state-business partnership designed to match veterans and their family members with potential employers. In addition to Sebring, the job-fair event was held in Arcadia, Crestview, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Lake City, Lakeland, Leesburg, Madison, Naples, New Port Richey, Orange City, Orlando, Rockledge, Sarasota, Tallahassee and Wauchula.
The Sebring job fair was put on for the second time in Highlands County, said Colleen Dukes, CareerSource Heartland business operations manager. She said a similar veterans job fair was held at the beginning of June and another is planned for September.
This year, a total of 17 employers from Highlands County businesses were on-hand to speak with job-seeking veterans; the job fair was open to the public from noon to 1 p.m.
There are about 12,900 military veterans living full time in Highlands County.
“The goal is to get as many vets and job-seekers hired as possible. We want to give them (veterans) the extra assistance. We have plenty of jobs here and this gives them a few minutes of face-to-face time with employers to personally market their skills,” said Dukes, in her third year with CareerSource.
Among the jobs businesses and organizations represented at Paychecks for Patriots were certified nursing assistants, groundskeepers, shop supervisors, drivers, billing clerks, sales executives, bartenders, office administrators and front-desk clerks.
Following the 2013 Paychecks for Patriots, within 90 days more than 30 percent of the military candidates found employment through the job fair, according to Penelope Justice, Paychecks coordinator with the state program for the employment initiative for the Florida National Guard. She said over 500 employers and more than 3,500 veterans sought work Wednesday at 19 different sites.
“We’ve just gotten phenomenal support by the employers throughout the state. Florida is the most military-friendly state,” she said.
After giving his resume to Donald “Bud” Wallen, area chairman for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, Amise Winters, 61, a U.S. Marine veteran of Vietnam, said he is retired from Georgia-Pacific paper and was looking for warehouse work. The Sebring veteran served as a combat still photographer.
“I’m just looking. They (area businesses) aren’t hiring too many old guys, but I’m not giving up,” he said. “But it’s good this is here to help the vets.”
Justice said it was free for businesses to register and participate in the fair and coordinators urged employers with locations in different sites to have representatives at as many as possible.
While speaking with a job-seeking veteran, Terry Green, business development coordinator with Sunshine Staffing, Sebring, suggested the man have a proper resume written up as hard copies and for online to present at future interviews. He said many of the veterans aren’t equipped for the modern job search and that’s what he said Paychecks for Patriots gave him the opportunity to help.
“We know the transition to civilian life can be difficult but a lot of the skills they learn in the military can be transferrable and this (job fair) gives them some help,” he said.
The unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces since September 2001, Gulf War-era II veterans, decreased to 9 percent in 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported March 20. In 2013, about 9.8 million veterans were estimated to have served during World War II, the Korean War or Vietnam. Thirty percent of male veterans of these wartime periods were in the labor force and their unemployment rate was 6.5 percent.