Job fair seeks to assist veterans

While on leave from his post in the Netherlands last March, 1st Sgt. Tony Bellocq attended a job fair for veterans and their spouses and met Staci Couret. Bellocq had been serving in the Air Force for 23 years and was getting ready to retire to his hometown of New Orleans with his wife and 12 and 16-year-old daughters. Couret was at the job fair representing Whelan Security.

Bellocq kept in touch with Couret when he went back overseas, and two weeks after he returned home last June, Bellocq started a job with Whelan in a mid-level position.

Within six months, he had been promoted to one of the firm’s highest paid positions as director of security for The Shops at Canal Place.

At the “Hiring Our Heroes job fair held Wednesday morning at Xavier University, Bellocq and Couret stood together behind the company’s table, giving information to veterans and their spouses, setting up interviews and working to fill open positions.

The event was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Chamber Foundation with the National Football League Players Association as a partner and Capital One and Entergy as sponsors.

In addition to Xavier president Norman Francis, current and former NFL players Cam Jordan, Michael Lewis, Darren Sproles, Mike McKenzie, and Charlie Batch appeared at the event.

The effort to connect the skilled veterans to employers with open positions is part of a nationwide Hiring our Heroes effort that was launched in 2011 and has held more than 400 fairs, helping more than 14,000 veterans and military spouses find employment. About 70 vendors, from casinos to coffee companies, were represented at booths in Xavier’s Convocation Center.

“Companies shouldn’t hire veterans because it’s the right thing to do — they should hire them because it’s a smart thing to do,” said Ross Cohen, senior director of programs and operations for Hiring our Heroes.

Cohen said that the Chamber of Commerce didn’t launch the initiative only as a service to veterans, but as a service to their network of businesses who were hungry for talent.

Cohen said that no one teaches qualities like leadership and teamwork better than the U.S. military. There are numerous valuable skills that aren’t always reflected on a resume, Cohen said, such as the willingness to show up early and stay late to get the job done, managing small to large teams of people under extremely trying circumstances and solving problems. A veteran himself, Cohen said that soldiers face new challenges daily and must adapt quickly and work hard until the job is done.

Sgt. Charles Jefferson, an active duty Marine stationed in Belle Chasse, said that he would be getting out of the military in July after nine years of service and wanted to find a stable job in New Orleans. Jefferson said that he was surprised by the number of well-known businesses represented at the fair and appreciated the support for troops.

“We come are here for a reason,” said Patricia Shelton, corporate recruiter for Noranda Alumina.

From the oil and gas industry to construction, security and utilities, Jefferson said he was open to a variety of jobs. But with a wife and 7- and 9-year-old girls at home, he said he preferred not to work offshore. Jefferson said he set up an interview with one company and was told by another that they would be able to hire him immediately for part-time work.

Army reservist Jacob Faugeaux said he came to the fair looking for full-time work and had spoken with people representing hotels, financial services and senior care. Faugeaux said he had already come across some good prospects.

Cohen said that there is an effort underway in the military to make adjustments in training for jobs such as driving trucks and nursing to make it easier for veterans to translate their skills to certifications for civilian jobs.

There are millions of dollars invested in the education of a soldier, and it is real-world experience that cannot be replicated in any other way, Cohen said. In addition, Cohen noted the benefits to employers of the G.I. bill, which can be put toward relevant technical training as well as four-year colleges. And there is a significant tax incentive for employers to hire veterans and an even larger credit for disabled veterans, he said.

Couret said that Bellocq’s skills along with his determination and drive quickly opened up opportunities for him to rise at Whelan. Bellocq said that he returned to help recruit more veterans at Wednesday’s fair because discipline and a strong work ethic are qualities a large majority of veterans bring into a workplace.

“We know we get that quality,” said Shelton, of hiring veterans for her Nashville-based company. “They understand how to handle conflict, can work under stress, work as a team and they are excellent problem solvers.” Many of the veterans also bring with them a mentality of service, Shelton said, and a sense of “purpose behind the work.”