During a veterans job fair in February called for by congressman Tim Scott, The Post and Courier interviewed several veterans and service members looking for jobs.
Three months later, we revisited some of them to see how successful the job fair was for them and what they are doing today. Not all of those we interviewed called us back. Two of the six who did received calls back as a result of the job fair, but no job materialized from the job fair for any of them.
One launched his own business. Another took a temporary job. Some furthered their education or soon will. All of them gave an opinion on why the job market is so tough on veterans and current service members looking for work. These are their stories.
Nicholas Bailey Nicholas Bailey left the Army in December 2010 after more than 12 years.
Since then, the husband and father of two has been out of work.
Dressed in a pinstriped gray suit, the North Charleston resident darted through the nearly 100 booths set up at the job fair held at the Charleston Area Convention Center in North Charleston.
Bailey, 32, passed out resumes, hoping to get his foot in the door with his military background and recently earned commercial diving certification, a license he acquired while out of work.
Out of the dozens of resumes the North Charleston resident handed out during the job fair, Bailey got one call back from a real estate company.
He recently received his real estate license, but he hasn’t started working there yet. He hopes to soon.
In the meantime, Bailey launched his own company called Flipping Out LLC, an outdoor marketing business that, among other things, employs people to stand outside a business with a lightweight sign and flip it around to lure customers. He and his part-time workers wear neon shirts to draw attention from motorists and for safety since they usually operate near high-traffic intersections.
“I was looking around at different franchises to get into, but the one I was interested in was outrageous to buy into,” he said. “I took something and expanded on it, with a concentration on sign flipping.”
The customer pays the $250 cost per sign, which Bailey has made by a North Charleston sign company.
“The trick is in flipping, not spinning,” he said. “I flip it until I get someone’s attention, and then I stop so they can see it.”
Bailey won’t give a sign to just anyone to flip. They have to prove they can do it correctly or they won’t be hired, he said.
Bailey’s first local customer was Cricket Communications, which has 22 stores in the Charleston region and has experienced success with another sign-flipping firm out of California.
The day after Bailey flipped a Cricket Communications sign outside a new store near Summerville recently, the shop saw a 35 percent increase in sales the next day, according to Todd Brown, district director for Cricket Communications.
“It works,” he said. “It’s used to get door swings to drive traffic.”
One side of the sign carries the business’ name. The other carries the promotion or directs customers to a new store or special event. “It can say whatever the customer wants,” Bailey said.
Bailey’s business also incorporates a street team that is trained in a company’s products. They then attend large public events to show people how the products work.
Bailey, whose wife works at the VA hospital, receives a retirement check from the Army, but he said money is tight and he knew he needed to do something since there weren’t many job offers being made.
“My goal with the new business is to support the family,” he said.
Bailey thinks veterans, many who joined the military straight out of high school, have a more difficult time landing a job because most places want someone with experience.
“Sadly enough, most of them will want a degree versus eight years of leadership in the military,” the former infantryman said.
Dustin Peets Married with one child, Dustin Peets, 23, is in the Army National Guard with about three years left before he gets out.
The North Charleston resident passed out nearly three dozen resumes during the job fair and heard back from a few of them.
Peets went through eight different interviews with Verizon Wireless, but it decided to hire somebody else, he said. A hotel offered him a maintenance job, but it wasn’t what he was looking for.
“I understand you got to get what you can, but I’m not really a janitor, not for $8 an hour,” Peets said.
Another company offered him a 12-hour factory shift, but he didn’t like the hours.
Peets served in Afghanistan for nine months in 2010 and then worked in security at the Boeing construction site in North Charleston. When the project was completed, the job ran out.
When none of his leads from the job fair panned out, he decided to apply through a temporary hiring agency.
He found an overnight job at a bottle packaging plant in Hanahan. He started two weeks ago.
“It’s warehouse work, but you have to get what you can,” Peets said.
Realizing he needed more education than high school to land a better job, Peets decided to return to Trident Technical College and major in computer programming. He starts later this month.
La Tanya Brooks After 20 years in the Navy as a military police officer, La Tanya Brooks, 40, of Ladson left the military in 2010.
She quickly landed a job with retailer Target on its price accuracy team, but that job will be consolidated with another one later this year and she will be out of work.
Brooks attended the job fair looking for something on the administrative side of law enforcement. She passed out about a dozen resumes but didn’t receive any calls back.
“A lot of those places didn’t have any positions available, but they were holding resumes on file,” she said.
Since then, Brooks has been searching elsewhere for a job. She’s had a couple of interviews but has not landed a replacement job yet.
“Job-hunting is a job,” she said. “You really have to educate yourself to search for jobs and learn how to interview for jobs. You have to sell yourself and be able to network. You have to know how to have a professional-looking resume, be confident and knowledgeable. It’s a tough economy right now. It’s an employer’s market.”
Even though she has a job for now, Brooks said waiting for it to run out is not an option.
“I want to see what is available now,” she said.
Bobby Knight After 11 years in the Army, Bobby Knight, 34, left the military in 2007.
Not long afterward, the Moncks Corner resident landed a job with a security firm and has been working the night shift at Piggly Wiggly’s distribution center in Jedburg since January.
At the same time, Knight attended classes at Trident Technical College and this month received a degree in information systems.
He’s looking for a better job and attended the job fair in February like hundreds of others.
He passed out resumes to several firms and even applied online, but he did not hear back from any of them. “It’s slim pickings,” he said.
Even though the market seems to have jobs, there are so many people looking that it’s hard to get one. The more experienced people are more likely to find a job than someone just graduating from college. I will work where I am until I find something else. I have the potential to make more money though.”
Scott Owen Former Air Force member Scott Owen, 32, with an online degree in management earned while he was out of work, searched around for anything that might suit him and passed out a handful of resumes.
He worked in security at the Medical University of South Carolina for about 18 months after leaving the military in 2008, but he decided that wasn’t for him.
The husband and father of three didn’t receive any calls back from the job fair, so he applied for positions online. He found one he liked in law enforcement on the Air Force base but was told he was not qualified.
“No one is hiring, and most of the jobs I can find are upper management or bottom high school-level jobs,” the Charleston native said. “There is nothing in the middle for me. I can’t get a lower-level job and make nothing and support my family.”
While he is out of work, he stays home with the children. His wife, Melinda, works as an office manager for a urology clinic to help pay the bills.
Seth Wilcox Air Force reservist Seth Wilcox, 22, was looking for a full-time police job to supplement his part-time military duties. He went straight to the local law enforcement agencies’ booths at the job fair.
The North Charleston resident received a couple of calls back, but was told there were no positions available right now.
He is currently undergoing Air Force training, but that will end the first week of June.
Married with no kids, Wilcox hopes something opens up soon, but he suspects employers are hesitant to commit.
“I believe people are uncertain about the future, and a lot of people are thinking about down the road,” he said. “There is a lot of demand for jobs, and it’s a very competitive market.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.