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Vet Talks job fair aims to improve employment of veterans in Arizona

Posted 3/3/19

With the unemployment rate of veterans in Arizona dipping below the national average, an upcoming event in Phoenix looks to put the state’s military …

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Vet Talks job fair aims to improve employment of veterans in Arizona


With the unemployment rate of veterans in Arizona dipping below the national average, an upcoming event in Phoenix looks to put the state’s military “retirees” back into the civilian workforce.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Arizona has one of the highest military veteran unemployment rates in the U.S., with 5.2 percent of Valley veterans unemployed in 2017. The national unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, which decreased from 4.3 percent.

The difference has some businesses wondering why Arizona is trailing behind the national average and how can veterans be helped.

“Many Americans outside of the military are unaware of the skills and leadership experiences that veterans acquire while in service — including employers,” a release states. “Unfortunately, many business owners mistakenly believe that the skills that veterans have are not transferable or applicable in the corporate world.”

An event March 7 is meant to erase those beliefs.

BestCompaniesAZ is hosting Vet Talks: Veteran Business Network and Career Event, from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7 at University of Phoenix, 4035 S. Riverpoint Pkwy, off Interstate 10 at 32nd Street.

In its fifth year, the event connects Valley veterans with the top military-friendly companies, from Charles Schwab and USAA to Farmers and GoDaddy.

Denise Gredler, CEO and founder of BestCompaniesAZ, doesn’t have a lot of close family who have served, but really got on board with helping veterans connect with employers after the first event, which was spearheaded by Arizona State University.

“Our goal will be if we can get the underemployed - those vets who are currently in a career and feel they have more potential - if they would come out to the event and explore into the world with their own company or a new one, talk about their story, that would be success,” Ms. Gredler said.

The event features more than 30 Valley military-friendly companies and has seen anywhere between 150 and 250 veterans attend.

BestCompaniesAZ launched in 2004 and works with Valley companies to implement military-friendly and veteran-committed workplace initiatives, such as military spouse telecommuting, veteran resource groups, management training and career development programs and veteran mentorships.

Modeled after “TED Talks,” Vet Talks features five presentations from different military professionals who have transitioned into civilian life with some of Arizona’s top companies. They will provide career advice through personal anecdotes, career advancement tips and employment guidance.

Veterans can also talk and connect with Valley employers, business leaders, acquisition teams and military resource organizations.

Brenda Smull, managing director at Charles Schwab, was in the U.S. Army four years before transitioning to civilian life. She said the best way for veterans to look for jobs and transition to civilian life is to network, whether via LinkedIn, career fairs, talking with people, and even social media.

When she left the military in the early 1990s, Ms. Smull didn’t have the plethora of options that are available today. Instead, her first job back in civilian life came from a referral by a headhunter, similar to a recruiter but who doesn’t work directly for the company that is searching to fill a position.

Without the direct contact with the company at the beginning of the hiring process, Ms. Smull said she only lasted one year.

But she rebounded and found something she did like just by talking to military friends.

“They’re a good company, they had a good veteran network,” Ms. Smull said about her decision to work at the company. “It was a friend of a friend. Over 500 people in the company are part of military network. That’s kind of cool. We do a lot of activities together.”

At the Vet Talks event, Ms. Smull plans to talk about mountain biking and how to avoid face-planting. The goal: to relate it to life, the military and how to transition to civilian life.

Christine Gannon, CEO of Brightworks Consulting, works with employers to train on veteran hiring and talent development. Her experience includes time with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Even in the interview process, a meeting between an employer and a veteran can take on a whole different feel than with a non-veteran prospect. Ms. Gannon said the vernacular used by veterans may be initially understood by an employer.

She said companies should understand what types of careers are available in the military so they can ask questions that are meaningful to a veteran.

“Many times their experiences are overlooked because it doesn’t look like corporate America,” Ms. Gannon said. And despite a veteran’s strong work ethic and dedication, those traits aren’t easily displayed at a job fair or interview.

“Going to a typical job fair for a veteran can often times be a nightmare because they’re not used to approaching a table and promoting themselves.” Ms. Gannon added.

In the military, Ms. Gannon said veterans usually knew what the next rank was and what they needed to do to be promoted.

“When a veteran joins a corporation or company they’re given an office or cubicle type of position. That’s challenging for vets used to a team environment,” Ms. Gannon said. To alleviate the challenge, companies are encouraged to pair new veteran employees with a mentor who helps them integrate.

At Charles Schwab, Ms. Smull said new employees receive a welcome email and packet, attend monthly or quarterly meetings, volunteer, and participate in videos, skits and pictures.

“You miss that close team so we try to mimic that in corporate culture,” Ms. Smull said, adding her Charles Schwab cohort will be participating in Pat’s Run in April.

Another important aspect in hiring veterans is understanding their talents. If an employer fails to do so, veterans may feel underutilized and might move on.

Despite Arizona’s lag in veteran employment, Ms. Gannon is optimistic it will improve.

She noted that veterans usually bring the following traits to a position:

  • A worldwide perspective versus someone who has only lived in their hometown.
  • Problem solving and decision making skills. Military personnel are expected to act or react to situations, some which may be life-threatening.
  • Leadership and/or teamwork to bring people together and work towards a common goal.
  • Attention to detail, with Ms. Gannon saying military personnel with high security clearances had to go through a process to get that, which may include a person’s ethics.

Those four traits are what Ms. Gannon said the more successful companies that hire veterans not only truly understand but know how to utilize in putting a veteran in a certain role.

The Maricopa Community Colleges host two Military and Veteran Success Centers that offer free services and resources for transitioning military members, veterans and their dependents, according to Rio Salado College’s website.

In the West Valley, veterans can visit Luke Air Force Base, 1153 W. Lightning St., just outside of the Lightning Gate Base entry.

Contact VetSuccess.west@riosalado.edu for more information.

Veterans looking for their next career are encouraged to attend Vet Talks and invite any comrades in the same boat. The event is free and open to the military, the veteran community and their families.

“It’s taken a life of its own. It’s been fun,” Ms. Gredler said. “With all the call centers, banks and career opportunities coming to our state, employers are having to check how their companies work.”