Job fair caters to veterans
By DANIEL HARTILL | Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine | Published: January 16, 2013
LEWISTON -- Larry Wonch clutched a camo-covered notebook filled with resumes Tuesday as he drifted from table to table and employer to employer.
The 54-year-old veteran from Greene was one of about 200 people who attended a morning job fair at the Lewiston CareerCenter, aimed specifically at helping area veterans.
"It's been a struggle," said Wonch, who served with the 133rd Engineer Battalion. A technicality in veterans' job security rules cost him a good job at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Lewiston, he said. He now works two jobs because neither can pay the bills alone.
At Tuesday's fair, Wonch joined job seekers who served 45 years ago in Vietnam and those who served in Afghanistan only months ago, said Rich Oberg, the veterans representative at the Lewiston CareerCenter.
Oberg, himself a Navy veteran, insisted that veterans have special skills to offer, including the ability to work in a team and a never-say-die tenaciousness.
"We're not allowed to fail," Oberg said. "And we don't go home until the job is done."
The job fair -- in which a dozen employers gathered in the center's lobby -- filled up soon after it opened its doors at 9 a.m. An hour later, the parking lot was full and several interviews had been conducted.
Among the employers was Oxford Casino, which was promoting openings on its surveillance team, in the restaurant and among its table games floor supervisors.
Tom Cody, the casino's human resources director, said the still-new business employs about 450 and has about 40 openings.
The vast majority of available jobs do not require a college degree, he said. Rather, people need to be trainable and willing to be flexible about their working hours, particularly since the casino is always open.
Veterans' ability to work in teams and, in some cases, their experience in security matters are desired, Cody said.
Tuesday's fair was also open to the general public, some of whom wandered in after seeing the signs placed outside on Mollison Way.
The current job market rewards most people who are actively searching for employment, said Mary Kozicki LaFontaine, who manages the CareerCenter.
"It's not as bad as what people believe it to be," LaFontaine said.
The 12 businesses that attended the fair, including Lowe's, Xerox and VIP Auto, represented about 100 jobs or about one position for every two attendees.
The job market in Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and Bangor seems to be easing, particularly in the last six to eight months, she said. In the rural communities, the situation is tougher.
Bruce Gerry of Auburn has yet to feel the heat of a warmer job market. He has been unemployed since his job on the 2010 Census expired.
On Tuesday, he dressed in a tie and sweater vest, carried his resume in a leather pouch and tried to talk with people at every table.
The days of following his interests toward a career had given way to simple need.
"At this point, I'm not real picky," he said. "I haven't had an interview with anybody in over a year."