MODESTO, Calif. — Finding a job isn’t easy these days, but it can be even tougher for members of military reserve units. Recent studies have found unemployment rates as high as 20 percent for California’s 85,000 reservists.
To help those part-time members of America’s armed forces and National Guard – who can be called to active duty whenever the military needs them – the state created the Work for Warriors employment initiative two years ago.
“We’re reaching out to all reserve unit members, and we are absolutely focused on helping them get jobs,” explained Sgt. Jason Cameron, a Work for Warriors resource manager.
Cameron was in Modesto on Thursday, staging daylong training for reservists seeking jobs as security guards. About 15 people took advantage of the free program, which Cameron sees as a good first step for reservists interested in law enforcement careers.
Many members of military reserve units desire jobs as police officers and sheriff’s deputies, but landing those highly competitive positions often can take a long time. Cameron said that since many reservists need to find work right now, it makes sense to get them qualified to fill openings as private security guards.
While security positions can pay only $12 an hour to start, Cameron said such jobs “are a good segue into a law enforcement career.”
“Security guards learn how to deal with the public, write reports, prevent potential crimes and de-escalate situations,” Cameron explained.
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department detective Jose Perez agreed: “Security guards often work hand-in-hand with police, and they often are the first to make contact with the public” when an incident occurs.
Perez dropped in on Thursday’s training to tell the reservists about the Sheriff’s Department’s plan to hire eight to 10 patrol deputies, plus 42 custodial officers to work in the county jails.
“We pull a lot of our hires from the military,” said Perez, noting that those with experience in the armed forces tend to be more mature, self-disciplined and accustomed to the command structure used in law enforcement.
Finding a secure career is something California National Guardsman Evan Miller says he needs, which is why the Riverbank father is interested in starting as a security guard.
Miller, 26, has been using Work for Warriors to help him get a job. Last year, Miller participated in one of the agency’s programs to get into a seasonal firefighting position with the U.S. Forest Service. He ended up battling the Rim fire in Tuolumne County last summer because of it.
“I want something more stable and full time now,” said Miller, who is married and has two children. He’s optimistic that the leadership experience he has attained while serving in the military will be recognized by employers.
Convincing more private employers to understand the merits reservists have to offer is part of Cameron’s mission.
“Hiring a veteran is great, but hiring a reservist is even better because we still have our thumb on them,” Cameron explained. As part-time members of the armed forces, reservists must routinely pass drug screenings, meet physical fitness standards and maintain their military security clearance.
Most reservists are 18 to 24 years old, and Cameron said many of them have developed extensive skills while serving in the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard or National Guard.
Conveying their skills in nonmilitary terms that private business people can understand is the challenge.
“You should see the résumés (the reservists) send me. No civilian employer would know what they’re saying,” Cameron said. As a result, many reservists never get interviewed by potential employers. “They get weeded out because they didn’t use the proper verbiage to describe their skills and experience.”
Work for Warriors advisers offer one-on-one counseling by phone and via email to help reservists strengthen their résumés.
Cameron offers this example: “Instead of saying you’re a squad leader, say you’re a supervisor on your résumé because that’s what you do.”
He helps translate the military’s many acronyms and specialty terms into the keywords civilian recruiters want to see.
“We know how to verbally describe their military skills in ways that are recognizable to employers,” Cameron said. “We help them put their best foot forward.”
California National Guard member Sarah Mattos of Modesto said she appreciates the job-hunting assistance she has been getting from Work for Warriors.
“It’s really helpful. I get a lot of emails about companies that are hiring and job-placement help,” said Mattos, 27, who is enrolled in the Institute of Technology’s baking and pastry training program.
Mattos said she went through Thursday’s security guard program because she “joined the military to protect people,” so becoming a security guard seemed as though it would be a good fit.
Work for Warriors also is partnering with the California Conservation Corps this year to get reservists into the paid training programs it offers.
Starting in March, the Conservation Corps will offer full-time employment that includes meals and lodging. Those conservation-oriented jobs pay minimum wage, but participants are awarded college scholarships.
Cameron said those trained by the Conservation Corps often get an advantage in securing better-paying jobs with agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the state Departments of Transportation (Caltrans) and Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).