Hiring Our Heroes helping veterans find employment

Hank Hayes • May 14, 2013 at 11:08 PM

KINGSPORT — Ernie Lombardi got straight to the point when he addressed more than 45 employers at the start of the “Hiring Our Heroes” event for job-seeking military veterans held at the MeadowView Marriott on Tuesday.

“If it’s within your power today, your mission is real simple: Hire these veterans today,” Lombardi, a Marine veteran and regional associate with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, told the employers staffing tables at the event. “That’s your mission. ... You never know folks, you might find one nugget today. ... So if it’s within your power, put somebody back to work.”

Everyone stood as veterans filed into the MeadowView exhibit hall, and then Lombardi gave them their marching orders.

“Take time to visit with everybody,” he told the veterans.

Joblessness hit veterans hard following the 2008 financial crisis, with many from the post-9/11 era facing a double-digit unemployment rate in 2009.

The unemployment rate for all veterans from April 2012 to now has moved into the 6-7 percent range, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since its launch in March 2011, Hiring Our Heroes has been able to help more than 100,000 veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the U.S. Chamber.

More than 18,400 of those hires came directly from more than 520 hiring fairs the foundation has held nationwide. An additional 90,000 veterans and military spouses have been hired as a part of “Hiring 500,000 Heroes,” a national campaign announced by the U.S. Chamber, National Chamber Foundation and Capital One to engage the business community in committing to hire half a million veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014.

Thus far, the foundation said more than 900 businesses of all sizes have pledged to hire 222,000 heroes toward this goal.

Tuesday’s MeadowView event included one-on-one mentoring sessions on resume building, resume writing, and interviewing techniques for all job-seekers.

“The beauty of what we do with the (Hiring Our Heroes) events is that we give these veterans one-on-one opportunities to talk with these employers,” Lombardi pointed out.

At the event workshops, veterans learned how to develop a so-called “elevator pitch” and participate in a mock interview.

Former medic Thomas Cook of Jonesborough, who served in Kuwait, was at the event thinking about health care employment.

After being discharged in 2002, he got a job at Bristol-based King Pharmaceuticals but lost it when Pfizer acquired the company.

Cook, 59, said he went back to college to get a nursing degree, but hasn’t got his license yet.

“I was hoping to work only for another five or six years,” Cook said. “Unfortunately the economy went south.”

While continuing education is important, Lombardi said one thing generally not discussed at the event is going back to college on the G.I. bill.

“We know it’s out there for these veterans,” he said of the federal benefit helping veterans pay for college. “We’re more concerned about putting these guys and girls before employers to get them hired. ... I would like to believe what we do is definitely making an impact.”

The hiring event was held in partnership with the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee Workforce Alliance, the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, the Tennessee Committee of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, The American Legion, and other local partners.

For more go to www.hiringourheroes.org.

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