VINELAND – Almost 100 veterans came to Cumberland County College on Wednesday in search of something they said they really need: Work.
For 54-year former U.S. Army veteran Lawrence Crandell, of Bridgeton, the need is critical: He bought a house shortly before being laid off by a landscaping company.
“I need a job,” said Crandell, who served as fabric repair specialist and mechanic while serving in the Army from 1979 to 1985. “I have got to find work.”
Crandell and the other veterans were at the Second Annual Hire Our Local Heroes Job and Career Fair. The morning event, sponsored in part by the CEO Group, an organization that represents about 45 area businesses, marked the beginning of a day-long tribute by Cumberland County to its veterans. The day ended with many veterans being awarded the Cumberland County Military Service Medal.
This was the first time the county combined the two events to create a day-long tribute.
Crandell and other veterans attending the fair could meet with representatives of 18 businesses, whose attendance was dependent on those companies having jobs to offer, said Christy DeLeonardo, division director of the Cumberland-Salem Workforce Investment Board. Resumes left by the veterans will also be forwarded to about 14 more businesses that could not fit into the college’s banquet room for Wednesday’s event, she said.
Officials said the job fair is particularly important for Cumberland County veterans.
Many veterans have trouble making the transition from the military to the civilian work force, they said. That problem is compounded because Cumberland County has one of the worst economies in New Jersey.
“It’s difficult for any county right now,” said Cumberland County Economic Development Director James Watson. “Because (Cumberland County) started out at a low point, it made it more difficult.”
However, officials with companies attending the job fair said tapping into the potential work force is something they want to further explore.
Erin Hennessey, who works in the Human Resources department for Durand Glass in Millville, said the company has jobs that match up well with many of the veterans’ skills.
For instance, Durand has positions that require team-leading skills that many veterans developed while in the armed forces, she said. Other veterans have mechanical skills that Durand needs, she said.
CEO Group Executive Director Fran Reilly said companies should want to hire veterans because they respect authority, embrace responsibility and thrive in a team environment.
Still, veterans said job-hunting is not easy.
Sam Weldon, 40, who lives in the Cedarville section of Lawrence Township, served in the U.S. Army from 1991 to 2011. He was a tank commander and later did recruiting work.
Weldon currently works a part-time job with the U.S. Post Office, and said his bid for full-time work is difficult.
“I didn’t get a whole lot of call-backs,” he said.
Weldon said he is open all kinds of work, but would like something that would allow him to use the recruitment skills he learned in the service.
Along with the job recruiters, Wednesday’s event also involved organizations such as the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. Those groups were on hand to tell veterans about various programs and benefits.
Crandell, who said he’s suffered with various illnesses, including cancer, said he found out about some health benefits about which he did not know.
“More veterans should be here,” he said.