Many veterans find themselves unemployed following active duty. One reason is because it can be difficult to translate military experience into work history that employers recognize. The Arizona Department of Economic Security’s (DES) Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services (DERS) is home to the Veterans’ Workforce Program - a unit comprised of specialists dedicated to helping veterans transition into civilian lifestyle through fulfilling and sustainable employment.
Veterans Workforce specialists in Pima County partnered with Tucson Veterans Serving Veterans (TVSV) and the Arizona Veterans StandDown Alliance for a Veteran Priority Career Fair. The event kicked-off Arizona’s first StandDown of 2017.
StandDowns are resource fairs designed to connect veterans to local services that can help them achieve self-sufficiency. Guests get access to housing, employment, medical care, social services, clothing and much more.
Days Inn was not only the site of this year’s Tucson StandDown and job fair, but was also home to many homeless veterans for the weekend who received free rooms purchased from grant and donation funds.
The job fair, unlike the StandDown, was open to the general public, but veterans had first access. A total of 79 veterans came out to the job fair in hopes of finding employment with one of the 46 local hiring employers onsite.
Korean War Veteran, Don Edwards, heard about the DES Veterans’ Workforce Program, but was still hesitant to seek career help for himself.
“I walked into his office [DES workforce specialist, James Perez], a little suspicious not knowing if he was going to kick me out and tell me it was hopeless,” said Edwards. “But it was the exact opposite! He made me feel needed, wanted, and appreciated - which is hard for anyone to do. I left thinking that there might be some hope for this old guy somewhere.”
Edwards, an approachable and intelligent extrovert, knows the impact of what a friendly face and clear instructions can make on a customer. He came to the job fair with his sights set on a job working as a greeter for a local automotive company.
To ensure that Edwards got the most out of the event, Perez met with him beforehand to prepare. Together, they revised Edwards’ résumé, created a clear and concise list of his work experience, and setup a game plan for the big day. Perez connected Edwards to the automotive company representative and arranged for the two to have a quick on-site interview.
Edwards left the event one step closer to landing the job he wanted. The automotive employer invited him to come to his office to meet with Human Resources.
With very little money, the veterans’ community came together for Pima County’s first StandDown in 2005. The need for an event like this in Pima County was apparent, and subsequently, additional support began to roll in. The event organizers received grants and donations from entities like the Department of Labor, the Arizona StandDown Alliance and local organizations to help to cover the expenses associated with venue space, clothing, food, and shelter for homeless veterans.
“We saw that California and Phoenix were offering StandDown events, and thought that we needed one here [in Pima County],” explained Veterans Workforce Supervisor, Bob Millner.
Millner proudly described how members of the community rally together, year after year, to make this event happen for local veterans. People donate money, clothing, food and most importantly, their time, to this event.
For additional information about the DES Veterans Workforce Program, visit the Veterans Workforce webpage. To learn more about StandDown events, including information about how to get involved, go to the Arizona StandDown webpage.
By Jillian Seamans