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Fort Bragg job fair to help soldiers get help on career path

Although soldiers preparing to leave the Army probably won't be jumping out of airplanes or executing assault missions when they leave the military, experts say they have meaningful skills for a seamless transition into civilian jobs.

Soldiers preparing for careers after the military will have an opportunity to connect with companies in security development and technology research during the Fort Bragg Transition Summit this week. The job fair offers employers a chance to hear how soldiers' skills could benefit their companies.

"These are people who have done America's heavy lifting who are now transiting to a new phase in their lives," said Lt. Col. Gary M. Belcher, deputy chief of staff for Task Force Bragg. "This is a huge benefit to any soldier who is transitioning and seeking a job."

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the unemployment rate for veterans is up from about 5.4 percent in June to 6 percent in July. Of the unemployed veterans last year, about 35 percent were age 25 to 44 and about 60 percent were 45 and older, according to statistics.

Soldiers who are eligible to leave the military within the next 18 months are encouraged to attend the summit. Officials expect about 1,200 soldiers and their families.

The summit will be the third held at a military installation this year. Similar summits have been at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden spoke with soldiers about career readiness.

The summit is a partnership among the Army, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

"We've got strong ties within the local hiring community and even, to a degree, the regional community," Belcher said. "But we don't have a good set of ties to the national community. That's where we're hoping to get the most benefit from this transition summit."

Soldiers will have time to network with employers in a casual atmosphere to learn how they can have a successful job interview, Belcher said. Employers attending represent several fields, including sales, technology, transportation and manufacturing, he said.

Some employers do not realize how military skills can be beneficial to their companies, Belcher said. The summit equally offers employers a chance to feel out how soldiers can be a valuable part of their operations.

"They've got marketable skills," Belcher said. "They have proven ability to work under a tremendous amount of pressure, they're goal-oriented and they're disciplined. The bottom line is they're well-trained."

In the past three years, 24,000 men and women have been hired after similar job fairs, said Ross Cohen, senior director of Hiring Our Heroes, an employment initiative run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Cohen is a veteran paratrooper who was stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, and has deployed to eastern Afghanistan. He said it is important to connect soldiers with employers before they leave the military.

"They are really there to get a head start on the process, to learn what decisions do I need to make now, after having spoken to a real-life (employer)?" he said. "This is a golden opportunity to really transition those skills and talents in a powerful way."

dolasinskia@fayobserver.com

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