Dozens of employers gathered at a job fair at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville Wednesday seeking veterans to fill their payrolls.
Employers from law enforcement, industrial, financial, retail and other sectors filled the varsity gym at SWIC to meet veterans and collect resumes and applications.
Airman Joshua Progar is looking for a job as he prepares to separate from the Air Force in January. The 26-year-old just bought a house in Belleville and said he is not limiting his prospects.
"I'm just keeping my eye out for anything that's open," Progar said. "Closed eyes don't see anything."
Although he has been looking for jobs in law enforcement, Progar also said he may start his own business. That's why he visited representatives from the Small Business Administration, which had a table at the SWIC Veterans Job Fair. Progar said he also went to talk to an insurance company because his background in medical records.
"Anything related to that would be a great fit for me, but I also have some experience in security as well," he said. "There are lot great people here and I can talk to them, so it creates a great scenario and I get to talk to people."
Navy veteran Jermaine Daniels has just completed his degree in business management. The 29-year-old Wright City, Mo., resident said he also is keeping his options open.
"I am already in the labor field, so I'm looking to transfer from labor to management," Daniels said. "I'm finding a lot of useful information."
According to a recent report from the Associated Press, 29 percent of the 195,000 new federal employees hired last year were veterans. That is the highest percentage of military veterans hired in more than two decades.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security helped 17,000 veterans return to work last year. IDES spokesman Greg Rivara said the veteran unemployment rate throughout the state was lower than the national veteran unemployment rate in 2011 and 2012. The state rate in 2011 was 8.1 percent, and the national rate was 8.3 percent. The state rate in 2012 was 6.8 percent, and the national rate was 7 percent
"The vet job fairs are significant and can work," Rivara said.
Air force veteran and St. Louis County Police Officer Bradley Dameron said law enforcement is a natural transition for many veterans.
"They are going to have the understanding that comes with being at work on time and other certain things that we're looking for, like taking orders, being disciplined and things of that nature when they go to the police academy," Dameron said. "They tend to be a stand-up person who have been exposed to certain things and can handle things by themselves, not always depending on someone."
Other employers at the job fair said former military personnel bring desired background to the workforce. Chris Green, of Prudential Insurance, said he is looking for employees for his office in Swansea and said veteran applicants already have many qualities that he is looking for.
"I think a veteran just has a very stable work ethic through the routines that have been built in their systems," Green said. "When we get a veteran, it is a lot easier for them to know that this is what the expectation is."
"They're dedicated employees, I'm sure, because they have served our country," said Katie Johnson, a recruiter for The Bank of Edwardsville.
"Their experience and a lot of times their punctuality is amazing and the mentality that they bring makes them good candidates for jobs in the store," said Jeff Mudd, of Schnucks grocery stores.
Vernon Cooper, of Roehl Transport Inc., said the trucking company provides a seamless transition for most veterans.
"They are already used to being away from home, away from their families and loved ones, and they have the professionalism and discipline that's needed to be successful in this career," said Cooper, who is an Air Force veteran.
Progar agreed that more employers are seeking applicants with military experience, but its up to veterans to make it happen.
"It's a two-way street," Progar said. "The door is kind of cracked open, but you have to push it open and walk through it."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.