Unemployed and running out of options, Army veteran Norman Theaker drove five hours from northern Michigan to Cobo Center on Tuesday to hand out resumes at the Veteran Hiring Fair.
“I was getting to the point where I thought I’d have to give up and work for $7.40 an hour,” said the 53-year-old from Wellston, who estimates he has applied for more than 350 jobs in the past two years.
The former respiratory specialist, who served 20 years in combat medicine, landed an interview with the first employer — one of more than 225 private firms and public-sector entities at the event — he talked to.
Theaker was among 4,000 veterans from Michigan and neighboring states who came to the job fair, part of the National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo being held here through Friday. The job fair continues today and Thursday. About 25,000 jobs are available nationwide to candidates with military backgrounds.
“We wanted to create something veterans could turn into jobs right on the spot,” said Allison Hickey, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the event’s sponsor, about the job fair. She said veterans had nabbed more than 2,000 job interviews by noon Tuesday.
More than 11 percent of Michigan’s 704,000 veterans are unemployed, a number much higher than the national 8.3 percent average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The orders from the top of the Veterans Administration are that the Detroit hiring fair is to be the “mother of all hiring fairs” and the model for all future hiring events.
“No veteran should leave Cobo without something that’s tangible and helpful in their efforts to get a new job,” said John Sepulveda, assistant secretary for human resources and administration at the Veterans Affairs Department.
“This is like the Olympics of job fairs. We have everything here.”
Besides the job fair, the event includes resume preparation, interview techniques and career coaching.
Men and women dressed in fatigues and business suits streamed into the fair space all day Tuesday for a chance to speak with private and federal employers. Organizers directed foot traffic as company representatives handed out lanyards, water bottles, wrist bands, pens and — most important — applications.
The roster of local employers included Detroit’s Big Three automakers, online home lender Quicken Loans Inc., Big Boy restaurants and Two Men and a Truck, a Lansing-based moving company. National companies included General Electric, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Sears, Home Depot and Edward Jones. The departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice also are looking to hire veterans, organizers said.
Vets feel appreciated
Many employers were looking for engineers. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office is hiring mechanical, electrical and computer engineering positions in Michigan and Virginia. Jorge Scientific Corp. is looking to fill information technology specialist positions in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Louisiana, officials said.
Cindy Craig, a benefits specialist with Warren-based Big Boy restaurants, said her company is looking for cooks, servers, managers and franchise owners.
“Our veterans have sacrificed so much,” she said. “We owe that to them to be part of this event that gives back.”
Craig had an extra incentive to be there. Her 21-year-old son, Jesse, is stationed with the Air Force in South Carolina and plans to start school in the medical field soon, she said.
The fact that so many businesses came out impressed Lewis Daniels, a 57-year-old homeless Army veteran from Detroit.
“It makes me feel like I’m appreciated,” said Daniels, who has a background in carpentry but came to the fair looking for any kind of work.
“We have to see what comes from this. I’m hoping for work, but I hope it works out for everyone here.”
‘It opened my eyes’
In addition to promoting jobs, the event provides veterans with information about a variety of financial and health care benefits, services and resources available from the state and federal governments and community agencies. Among them is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which allows young veterans to go back to school.
Josh Mathis, a 27-year-old who served in the Army from 2003-05, is among those who benefited from the bill, and he showed up to offer support to the department and other veterans.
Mathis earned a master’s degree in social work from Wayne State University in Detroit and landed a job as social worker in the Utica school district.
“It opened my eyes,” Mathis said. “I didn’t even know a quarter of the stuff was available to me.”
Theaker, the Army veteran from Wellston, said he’s hopeful his scheduled interview with the VA Medical Center in Detroit goes well. He’ll relocate his family if he lands a job.
While he thinks more could be done to assist veterans in tough situations, he says the fair is a great start.
“I come here and see other veterans like me and realize I’m not alone,” Theaker said. “It gives me hope.”
By: Michael Martinez, The Detroit News