Jobs for veterans: Many struggle to find work in already tight job market

By Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal

SHANNON – Percy Maness dutifully served his country in the U.S. Navy, deploying eight times during his 20-year career.
He was in the Persian Gulf for both Iraq wars, served on four different aircraft carriers and was stationed all over the world.
“It was dangerous,” he said. “People got hurt. People got killed.”
Still, he said, if the Navy called him back today, he would not hesitate to return to duty. For Maness, his term in the military was more than any job could be – it was a way of life.
Settling into civilian life after so many years was a huge adjustment.
“I kind of feel sometimes like I’m not in the fight anymore,” he said.
Leaving the Navy, he said, felt like being left at port, only with none of the men with whom he shared a close camaraderie.
“I felt like my ship left me out all alone,” he said. “I looked back and no one was there.”
Like Maness, many veterans of the U.S. armed services face a myriad of challenges after leaving active duty. Not the least of which is the struggle to find work in an already tight job market.
Most have had little, if any, career experience apart from their military service.
Veterans representative Johnny Smith at the WIN Job Center in Tupelo said servicemen and service women have a strong skill set that goes above and beyond a typical job description.
“Many – if not all – vets, if nothing else, have work ethic,” Smith said.
Smith manages a federally funded initiative to help pair vets with civilian jobs through the WIN center. The federal government offers several tax incentives to businesses that hire vets through tax credits, one as much as $9,000 a year for two years per veteran hired.
The veterans program at the WIN Job Center in Tupelo offers more than just assistance in setting up interviews; it also works with veterans on resume writing, interviewing and basic computer skills.
Smith himself is retired from the military, serving more than 24 years in the U.S. Army and National Guard. He works closely with industry leaders in the area to identify employment opportunities.
Michael Hardy is a veteran Smith helped find a job through the program.
Hardy served three years in the Army and another three in the National Guard before returning home to Tunica. After several years in the Tunica County Sheriff’s Department as the assistant chief, he retired to take a job in the hospitality industry on the Gulf Coast. And then Katrina hit.
Hardy relocated to the Tupelo area with no job. Smith introduced him to a position at TLD Logistics in Baldwyn. In less than three weeks he had a job and was soon promoted to a supervisor position. He now is the North Mississippi manager for TLD and does what he can to hire veterans whenever possible.
“(The WIN Job Center) really tremendously helped me,” he said.
In addition to the federal programs available to veterans, the state has implemented initiatives to help put unemployed veterans to work.
“This year, 2013, was declared the year for hiring Mississippi heroes,” said Adam Todd, director of the governor’s job fair network.
“This is one way we can really try to help those men and women who have served us so well,” he said.
According to Todd, since the Sept.11 attacks, more than 25,000 Mississippians have served in the armed forces.
JOB FAIR THURSDAY
On Thursday, the state will hold a job fair for veterans, their spouses and dependents at the Belden Campus of Itawamba Community College from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Todd said this is the third of three fairs held throughout the state. All 36 spots available to employers at the fair have been reserved. Todd said he is working to find more room for additional vendors.
Some employers will conduct interviews and make offers right on the spot. Others may schedule interviews for a later date.
At a similar event in Jackson, 102 job offers were made on the day of the event. The state office projects 332 participants in total will be hired by participants over the next twelve months.
“There are many organizations out there right now looking to hire vets,” he said.
One Northeast Mississippi company has a particularly strong tie to the military.
General Atomics, located in the Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South, employs 12 veterans at its 60-person facility.
Percy Maness was one of the first few hired at the plant, which is working on a new aircraft launching system for the next-generation aircraft carrier for the U.S. Navy..
“I already knew that the Navy was going to do this project,” Maness said.
What he didn’t know was that the project would be located so close to Tupelo, where he was working as a recruiter.
In 2006, Maness was hired by General Atomics plant manager Pete Rinaldi, also a Navy man. Maness said he did not have a perfect skill set for the job at GA but that Rinaldi told him after 20 years in the military, “you’re trainable.”
He was right.
All of General Atomic’s employees are cross-trained to work in more than one position. Maness now is a department specialist for the defense contractor.
Jerry Riley, the lead technician, said military veterans often have experience with electronics and mechanical engineering, two skills GA looks for in job applicants.
The veterans employed at the plant said they could not recall one person being laid-off since it opened in 2006.
Most of the 11 veterans interviewed by the Daily Journal said they believed the work ethic instilled through their military service was a key factor in their success in the civilian workforce.
“Growing up I had a good work ethic instilled in me,” said GA employee Kelly Lyles who served four years in the Navy, “The military moved that along.”
sarah.robinson@journalinc.com

Job Fair
VETERANS, their spouses and dependents can meet employers with opportunities available at the Thursday job fair at the Belden Center of Itawamba Community College. For information visit

http://jobfairs.ms.gov.

FOR INFORMATION on veterans programs at the WIN Jobs Center, visit http://mdes.ms.gov/winjobcenters.