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."