Many came dressed in their best interview clothes Thursday for a veterans job fair in Merced.
Hair freshly cut, shirt firmly pressed and tie neatly arranged, Porfirio Romero of Merced looked around the American Legion Hall in town where almost 60 employers showed up to take résumés from job seekers.
“I’m working two jobs,” the 32-year-old said. “I want one solid federal job.”
His time in the military could give him a leg up, because federal jobs tend to give preference to veterans. Romero served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
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Meeting employers face to face at the fair could put him another step closer to finding that job, he said.
Romero was one of the 65 veterans who attended the fair, according to the Employment Development Department. The fair was also open to civilians, of which 103 walked through the doors.
There are many job seekers in Merced County, where the jobless rate ticked up to 15.9 percent in January.
Jim Kanabay, Merced County’s veterans services officer, said about 20,000 veterans call the county home. He estimated that at least 1,000 of them are unemployed.
Though many veterans have a military record that shows they have skills and are reliable, they find it hard to get work, said Michelle Allison, program manager for the Merced Worknet office.
She said it’s a story she’s heard often. “Construction, security – places where you think that there wouldn’t be a problem to be hired,” she said. “It’s been an issue.”
The biggest roadblock for veterans seeking work, according to Kanabay, is that the skills they learned in the military may not translate directly into civilian jobs.
For example, though veterans may have spent six years in the service fixing heavy machinery, they probably don’t have the certificate typically sought by an employer outside of the military.
“So, now I have to go all the way back into school to get that certificate,” he said, as an example. “Oh, and by the way, I’m unemployed. So how do I pay for it?”
The Merced County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Forest Service, Merced County Office of Education and many other public agencies had representatives at the fair. Other participants included Pizza Hut, VIA Trailways Inc. and Morning Star Packing Co., as well as vocational schools.
Another veteran at the fair was Douglas Humphreys of Hughson. The 22-year-old has been out of the Air Force for just over a week, and said his job prospects are looking good.
“Right before this, I had a job interview,” he said. “(Thursday) afternoon I have another interview. I’m pretty confident.”
For anyone who missed the job fair, the EDD offers a number of programs to aid veterans in their job searches. More information is available by calling the EDD office at (209) 726-5407 or by going to www.edd.ca.gov.