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Hundreds of unemployed veterans will meet local employers at job fair on Thursday

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 17, 2012 - Veterans will receive a warm patriotic welcome to Thursday’s “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair in Bridgeton, being billed as the region’s largest military employment event.

More than 400 veterans and 120 employers have registered for the fair, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and a host of local business, government and veterans organizations, according to Brandy Scheer, program support specialist with the ESGR.

The opening ceremony will feature music by the Pattonville High School Band and a tribute by the Patriot Guard Riders, along with a reception line of local employers who will shake the hands of veterans and thank them for their service.

Participating companies include some of the region’s largest: Ameren, Monsanto, Boeing, Enterprise, Laclede Gas and Peabody Energy. A variety of industries are represented: insurance, cell phone, auto repair, heating, cooling and plumbing companies, and hotels. Veterans service organizations will share information about resources, and there will be programs focusing on helping veterans improve their resume-writing and interviewing skills.

The St. Louis fair is part of a national effort by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to address the high rate of unemployment among the nation’s veterans. The unemployment rate among U.S. veterans serving after 9/11 -- referred to as Gulf War II era veterans -- was 12.1 percent in 2011, according to theU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By contrast, the unemployment rate for nonveterans was 8.7 percent in the same period. For young male veterans, 18 to 24, the unemployment rate is 29.1 percent, compared to 17.6 percent for nonveterans.

After the fair, Go! Vets, a new veterans outreach effort by the Go! Network, will host a lunch program, funded by donations, for local human resource professionals aimed at helping them understand how military experience translates to comparable positions in the civilian economy.

Rob Rossfeld, an Iraq War veteran, who is spearheading the Go! Vets program, will be among the speakers at the luncheon. He said the Go! Vets initiative is still in its formative stages, but he is encouraged by positive response to the concept. Thursday’s program will be the first major effort by Go! Vets.

“We’ll send participants away with a tool kit that lets them know how they can find appropriately skilled veterans who might be hidden in their applicant tracking systems with resumes that are laden with military jargon,’’ Rossfeld said. “I hope it carries through on a larger scale.’’

Rossfeld, a former Army captain who was featured in a Beacon story published in March, is himself an unemployed veteran. He plans to spend the morning touring the tables of employers at the jobs fair. He accepted the unpaid volunteer position with Go! Vets because he believes in the importance of bridging the gap that often separates former members of the military from civilian employment.

“It is worthwhile and gave me something to do that I have really enjoyed doing,’’ Rossfeld said. 

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.