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Hiring Fair Offers Vets a Way to Help Sandy Recovery

U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Legion and others sponsored hiring event in Toms River Tuesday

Though already employed full time, former U.S. Marine Cpl. Josh O'Connor is ready to work over 40 hours if it means recovering from the devastation Sandy left at the Jersey Shore.

"I can work 80 hours a week," the 29-year-old from Ocean Grove said during the Hiring Our Heroes job fair at the George P. Vanderveer American Legion Post 129 in Toms River Tuesday. "When this happened, I didn't think about money. It was duty to where I live. You do it for your community," 

The corporal was one of an estimated over 150 veterans and service members who inquired about employment in trade and other jobs, said Kevin Schmiegel, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes initiative.

"If we're rebuilding New Jersey, what better workforce to have than having veterans who are proven on the battlefield," said Schmiegel, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who served for 20 years.

"There's clearly a need," Schmiegel said. "There's a lot of focus on demolition, on cleaning up before we can do the building. There's a lot of government employment as well."

Among the 29 employment representatives at the fair hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several state and federal agencies was Hardhats to Helmets, an organization that helps service members transition to construction careers. Chris DiMeo, a program coordinator in New Jersey, said that about 30 people signed up at his booth and many more have called the organization looking for ways to get involved. Despite the interest in recovery employment, it remains unclear how many jobs Sandy recovery will create.

"I think there's work on the horizon," DiMeo said. "It's still early. It's still very premature."

Veterans are well suited for the potentially challenging work, said American Legion Post 129 Commander Richard Gato, since they're disciplined, are used to working long hours and have served in dangerous environments.

"You can't go wrong hiring a vet," he said. "They're dependable."

"They bring skills to the workplace," Schmiegel said. "We spend tens of thousands of dollars to train men and women out of high school for the military. Why don't we repurpose those skills for the private sector?"

In the storm's aftermath, many like O'Connor didn't need to be employed to help the recovery process. He volunteered his time in Ocean Gate, helping his neighbors remove debris and flooring from their destroyed homes.

"I wasn't looking for work then, I was just going around helping. It was all volunteer," O'Connor said.

Going forward, O'Connor recognizes that skilled laborers will be needed to restore the battered shore towns, some of which saw houses ripped from their foundations. 

"But now there's a lot of building going on," he said.

With 800,000 veterans currently unemployed and 1 million service members expected to leave the military over the next five years, Schmiegel is eager to get them back to work. Though Sandy was devastating to many, he said there is a "silver lining."

"The way I look at it is, from something very bad, some good can come out of it," he said. "If we can get veterans who are unemployed right now back to work, then there is some good that can come out of it."

In addition to Sandy rebuilding work, Schmiegel said that veterans should receive the training required to enter the growing economic sectors of energy, healthcare and transportation.

"But no one is doing that right now," he said. "This is about an opportunity for America to bring talented men and women into the workplace in sectors of the economy that we know are growing."

O'Connor came away from the hiring fair with a number of job leads he said he hopes can come to fruition as part time work. But for those who don't find recovery work right away, Schmiegel said that with efforts only recently beginning another hiring fair will be necessary when construction work ramps up.

"I think it will be important for us to come back again to focus on both commercial and residential building," he said. "These are long term sustainable careers and rebuilding New Jersey provides an opportunity."

Jeanne Lecarpentier-Wilson November 29, 2012 at 09:25 AM
Yes, they volunteered to gain skills & changing their lives. They also wanted to help change & improve other's lives. They have done this knowing each day that the ultimate sacrifice may be needed. Now, to cut the military budget they have been told they are not needed. The skills and knowledge they aquired are no longer of use. Not only are we not giving them the gratitude and respect they have earned but we act like they did it all just for themselves. If the perks were so grand why didn't everyone jump on the band wagon? Could it be that along with learning a trade they also had to agree to be away from their families much of the time, missing many important events. Could it be that along with learning a trade that they had to agree to give the ultimate sacrifice. So did they join up to just learn a trade or change their lives? No, They volunteered because not only could they change their lives but they could help protect and better many others who were unable to help themselves. They signed up to protect your way of life and mine. They were willing to do what many others were not. So many did have to pay the ultimate sacrifice and deserve our ultimate respect. And so do those who served next to them and are now having their jobs cut to reduce military spending. They were there when we needed them. They wanted to serve and protect me, you, everyone - including business owners and shareholders who could help put these guys to work.
sad but true November 30, 2012 at 01:51 PM
listen... its all going to be ok Obama is in office, He'll take care of everything... No need to work, or be in the military *( where there votes where not counted anyway ) Welfare got a higher increase them our military, SO just follow the leader ... he has show from his actions where his priorities are & whats really more important to take care of.
sad but true November 30, 2012 at 01:52 PM
** sarcasm*
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