OCEAN CITY — Gary Hargrove served in the U.S. Army for six years until 2006, and more than six years later he held a promise of employment in his hand.
“I’m happy,” the 32-year-old of Atlantic City said with a wide smile after a successful on-site interview to be a cable technician.
Hargrove was among more than 125 job seekers in Ocean City’s Music Pier on Thursday morning for the Hiring Our Heroes job fair to benefit veterans and military family members.
About 53 employers, representing a variety of industries, were on hand to talk to veterans, offer information and provide applications. Tables set up at the back of the hall were lined with people filling out applications for much of the event.
“I was focused on security, but there is so much they’re offering here,” Hargrove said. “And they’re working with me.”
Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, Tropicana Casino & Resort, Ocean City Home Bank, G&G Marine Construction and Atlantic Cape Community College were some of the local employers available.
AtlantiCare recruiter Jennifer Qualtieri said as many as 20 people came to her booth to talk about employment options, which she said included careers in maintenance, security, laboratory work and medical assistants at the company’s various nonhospital sites.
Denise Massey, a human resources specialist at AtlantiCare, joined Qualtieri at the booth to tell veterans about the veterans support groups the company also has to better understand veterans’ needs.
“We just want to demonstrate that if you’re hired to a position, you’ll also have these resources available,” Qualtieri said.
The event ran from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and a number of American Legion officials spoke at the opening of the event.
Ken Byerly, a senior officer with the Ocean City American Legion Post 524, said the employers they attracted for the event recognized the special skills veterans bring to the workplace.
“They understand the value of training these men and women have been provided,” he said, including discipline, focus and the ability to work as a team and respond quickly in different situations.
Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide effort to help veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment. It was launched last year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Chamber Foundation.
Thursday’s event was the fourth such job fair the initiative has organized in New Jersey this year, and several people said it was also the most impressive.
“I have been to a number of these, and I think this has been the best attended and best organized,” said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd.
Unemployment among veterans has been several percentage points higher than the overall unemployment rate in New Jersey and nationwide, a point that outrages veterans and veteran advocates.
“I think it’s great to have job fairs like this, but we should have jobs waiting for our vets when they come home,” said Joe Griffies, of Middle Township’s Rio Grande section, who co-hosts the Welcome Home show on WIBG 1020 AM radio on Saturday afternoons.
Not all the job seekers on Thursday were veterans or veterans’ family members. Some, like James Heitzer, 20, of Hamilton Township, was planning ahead.
“I’ve learned a lot today,” said Heitzer, who is currently active in the Marine Reserves. “Now I know the doors I would need to take to be where I want to be.”
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