Today, more than 500 veterans attended the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes job fair in New York City. The program, which launched last year, is committed to hiring 500,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014. So far, 108,000 have found jobs as part of the campaign in the last year.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there are currently 1.3 million Latino veterans — 308,000 of whom are from the Gulf War and have an 11.7 percent unemployment rate. This is almost two percentage points higher than non-veteran Latinos.
Ronal Arevalo, 30, was a specialist in the U.S. Army from 2003 until 2011 and has been looking for a stable job since 2012. He got to the fair bright and early and is feeling hopeful.
“I don’t have a college degree yet,” says Arevalo, who was born in Colombia, but is now a U.S. citizen residing in the Bronx, NY. “I learned leadership, discipline and can adapt to any environment thanks to the Army.”
He says after his tour in Iraq from 2000 to 2009, it’s been hard to adapt back to civilian life. He says his stepfather, who raised him since he was 7, passed away about five minutes before he got to say goodbye to him in the hospital. He now has the responsibility of taking care of his mother and sister, and he’s currently using the post-9/11 GI Bill — which will cover $30,000 to 40,000 of his tuition — enough to finish his associates degree. He would like to complete a bachelors in criminal justice, because his goal is to work at a private security firm. He says he’s still awaiting his first payment for school.
Today, Arevalo is looking for any job where he can use his skills.
Veronica Gallegos, 31, another former specialist from the U.S. Army at the fair, has three kids, 4-, 3- and 1-years-old. She is also looking to see whatever job she can get today.
“I was working last year as a manager at The Body Shop, but I’m looking for something better,” says the Ecuadorian-American from New Jersey. “I am getting my bachelors in IT. Eventually, I’m looking for something in logistics.”
She says she has skills in supply inventory and budget reports from the Army, but her biggest challenge is translating military skills to the civilian world.
“I like that companies are saying they are trying to help veterans, but only 3 percent know how to hire military,” says Orley Pacheco, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and chairman of military and veteran affairs at ALPFA. “It doesn’t work just showing your resume.”
He says it was the networking aspect of ALPFA which helped him get the introduction for his first job out of the military in 2007. Besides volunteering his time to help develop Latino business leaders through ALPFA, Pacheco also just launched his own company called the Pacheco Group, which helps companies find talent.
“Recruiters need to stop looking at the piece of paper,” says Pacheco regarding his advice to employers looking to hire veterans. “At the end of the day, it’s the person that creates the impact.”
Arevalo says a lot of recruiters have been telling him to apply to their companies online, but he agrees with Pacheco that one-on-one contact beats being just a name on a resume.
“I believe the fair was a great tool to help veterans find employment once they get out of the military…to help us transition,” says Arevalo. “Actually, today was an enormous help for myself, and I’m sure for every other veteran that was here.”