Veterans muster at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field job expo in bid for employment
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
PITTSBURGH — Army Sgt. 1st Class John Brunette knows he’ll enter a job market saturated with both civilians and veterans seeking employment when he retires in April.
“It’s a huge fear,” said Brunette, 40, of Chippewa. “The fear for us, as I’m sure it is for anybody, is that you have to provide for your family.”
Brunette was among about 300 veterans seeking jobs on Thursday at the “Hiring Our Heroes” RecruitMilitary job expo at Heinz Field. Veterans met with representatives from more than 50 companies, including U.S. Steel Corp., Chevron Corp., Dollar Bank, General Electric Co. and Bechtel Plant Machinery Inc.
“It’s awesome to be able to come and feel a sense of belonging,” said Brok Timpa, 25, a Louisiana native and Marine stationed in Johnstown whose service ends in December. “People are looking for us, not pushing us to the wayside.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for all veterans was 6.7 percent in September, down from 8.1 percent in September 2011.
The current rate is lower than the national average for all workers of 7.8 percent. But the news is not all good, veterans advocates say.
“Younger veterans are twice as likely to be unemployed than their civilian counterparts,” said Al Mercer, executive director of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania.
The country has experienced an influx of returning veterans since the Obama administration announced plans last year to bring home nearly 1 million troops stationed in Iraq.
Mercer said his agency, which is based on the South Side and specializes in assisting veterans with employment and housing, has had a rise in veterans who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq needing services.
“They’re 25 years old with a year of pay in their pocket,” he said. “Some end up self-medicating, drinking, being lazy. We see it all the time. We’re pretty familiar with the spiral downward.”
In 2011, 780 clients received employment assistance from the agency, and 441 were placed into positions at an average hourly rate of $12.11 per hour. More than half of those 441 were homeless veterans.
Larry Slagel, senior vice president of sales at RecruitMilitary and a retired Marine Corps captain, said veterans often end up taking jobs that “have nothing to do” with the skills they learned while serving.
“It’s tough as a military veteran to transition out,” Slagel said. “A lot were 18 years old when they entered. It’s their first real job. They don’t know how to look for a job or how to market themselves.
“When you get out, it becomes one of the most harrowing experiences other than getting shot at.”
Andrew Cuffe, 55, of the West End, a job-seeking Navy veteran, called the transition into the civilian world “difficult.”
“So many things have taken place, and you’ve had traumatic experiences from being in war and near war, then coming home and seeing how things have changed,” Cuffe said.
Efforts have been made at the federal level to provide incentives to companies that hire veterans. The Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 makes tax credits available ranging from $2,400 to $9,600, depending on whether the veteran is disabled and how long he or she has been unemployed. They apply to individuals who begin work from Nov. 22, 2011, through Dec. 31, 2012.
Bruce Niemeyer, vice president of Chevron’s Appalachian/Michigan Business Unit, said the company has a long-standing interest in hiring veterans. Chevron sponsored the RecruitMilitary hiring event.
“Military veterans have many of the positive employment attributes that we look for in new employees. They share our company’s commitment to safety, they demonstrate leadership qualities, and they have respect for teamwork,” Niemeyer said.