Vets on job hunt Hundreds pack employment fair on Yorktown

Shateesha Haynes of Georgetown (right) has her resume ready for Jorja Baclet of Legal Shield during the “Welcome Home 2012” job fair Thursday aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point.

MOUNT PLEASANT — Roberto Beall spent four years in the Navy fixing airplane cockpits.

But even with his expertise in tools, he still is having a hard time finding steady work in the civilian world.

“Commercial planes don’t have ejection seats,” he said half-jokingly.

Beall was one of several hundred people looking to get hired Thursday in the “Welcome Home 2012” job fair on board the aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point. By all accounts, it was the largest turnout ever for the event held annually.

And while some came away happy, others said the local market remains tough, even for those with military credentials.

“It’s like 20 jobs versus 100 people,” said six-year Army veteran Shateesha Haynes, who traveled from Georgetown.

Some of the more competitive positions have a resume-to-availability rate of 100 to 1, she added.

Some good news is that many of the 100 or so companies represented this year are more direct and focused in their interviews, Haynes said, opening doors more quickly.

“Being a vet, they actually want to talk to you a little more.”

The final attendance count for Thursday was 661, 453 of whom were veterans. Four vets were confirmed as hired, said Tonya Lobbestael of the Charleston Department of Veterans Affairs office.

Recent data show employment levels are actually improving for veterans. Bureau of Labor Statistics for April indicate that the jobless rate for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era vets fell more than a full percentage point to 9.2 percent, according to published reports.

For post-9/11 veterans since January, it also has been the lowest unemployment rate in any four-month period since 2008.

What remains unpredictable is how the job market will adapt to absorbing more ex-military as the Pentagon’s manpower needs decrease by the tens of thousands in the years ahead.

One business that was looking for workers Thursday — general contractor Harbor Services of Mount Pleasant — said it hoped to hire three to four people with expertise in project management.

The hurdle, though, is that much of their work is on VA facilities, and that the bidding process is under way now.

That means the company is in the resume-collecting phase, not necessarily immediately hiring.

“I think you can tell by the crowd here a lot of people are out of work,” said administrative assistant Wendy A. Thomas.

Other employers at the event included banks, fire and police agencies, and military-related and security contractors.

Some employers said there are steps the military can take to help ex-warriors with their civilian transition that aren’t being taken currently.

Randall Orvig owns a transportation company that moves freight around the port of Charleston.

He would like to hire more drivers with big-rig military experience, but said they are leaving the service without getting credit toward a commercial drivers license or the two years of experience needed on resumes for doing similar work.

“The vets are a class of people that we’re looking for,” he said. “They are stable. They report to work.”

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.