- Written by Megan Joyce Megan Joyce
With declining U.S. unemployment rates, employers looking to fill positions are facing a more limited pool of candidates from which to bolster their ranks.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the veteran unemployment rate was 2.7 percent in February 2019, down from 3.5 percent in February 2018. The non-veteran unemployment rate for February 2019 was 4 percent.
So for exhibitors like Stacie Lee-Smith, senior HR generalist for Church & Dwight, ensuring the company had a presence at the recent Veterans’ Expo & Job Fair in York was a logical move.
“With the veterans that are just coming out of the service, a lot of them are technically trained as electricians and mechanics,” Lee-Smith said.
“Now, with the candidate pool, it’s harder to find those technical skills, so this is definitely a good area or format to try to find those skilled workers.”
Held at the Wyndham Garden York on Loucks Road, the fifth annual Veterans’ Expo & Job Fair invited current military personnel of all ages, veterans, and their families to connect with benefits information and job opportunities.
Composed of more than 70 local exhibitors, the day was a two-for-one event presented by OLP Events; admission was free to the public.
At the Expo, attendees spoke with veterans’ organizations, such as Disabled American Veterans and Pennsylvania State Headquarters VFW, as well as representatives from educational institutions, veterans’ volunteer groups, and a range of businesses that offer discounts or services for military members.
Students from Barber Styling Institute also provided free haircuts during the event.
John Semanchik, marketing and administrative associate with Ricker Sweigart & Associates, said the company exhibits at the Veterans’ Expo to offer free retirement planning and benefits information to veterans.
Semanchick said the company acquired a focus on assisting veterans after founding partner Aaron Sweigart’s father, a Marine veteran, passed unexpectedly and Sweigart struggled to settle his father’s affairs.
“During the whole transition, he encountered a lot of things that he didn’t know, especially when it comes to veterans’ benefits and rights,” Semanchik said. “He said, ‘Listen, I guarantee you not a lot of veterans know about all of this, and we need to help them.’
“The way we look at it is that it’s our attempt to say thank you — giving [veterans] a second opinion with their retirement planning with no fee,” Semanchick said. “Any way we can help, we’re willing to do it. The laws change quite frequently, so we try to stay on top of it as much as possible.”
In addition to access to benefits and resources information, the event’s Job Fair component enabled veterans and employers to meet face-to-face to discuss available positions.
Industries present included finance, warehouse, medical services, administrative/clerical, engineering, management, sales, manufacturing, retail, computer tech/IT, transportation, and others.
Army veteran Carol Chalfant, of Stewartstown, was seeking work partly to secure her own health insurance — her husband will soon retire. But she also wants work that will take her outdoors after many years at home caring for her children.
“I want to work. I’ve raised my kids; they’re all out of the house. It’s definitely an empty nest,” Chalfant said. “I just really want to use my gifts. I do have a lot to offer. I’m a people person, and I love physical work.”
In the Job Fair’s Resource Center, visitors could participate in mock interviews and receive financial services and planning assistance, resume reviews, and other helpful information for translating military careers to civilian opportunities.
Shrewsbury resident Paul Bentz, who served in the Army as an infantry officer, had taken early retirement but now misses being part of the workforce.
Though his multifaceted background includes human resources, manufacturing operations, and vendor management, Bentz was open to new career possibilities available to someone in his position.
“[The Job Fair] is a great opportunity to talk to people about what’s out there and also share that at this stage of my life, I’m flexible,” Bentz said. “My kids have graduated; I’m not tied down as much as I once was to making a certain amount of money or working at a certain location.
“So that’s why I’m here: to be able to have the face-to-face that you don’t get in today’s technical world.”
The Veterans Expo & Job Fair will return to central Pennsylvania Thursday, May 30, at the Crowne Plaza Reading Hotel in Wyomissing.