Even before the doors officially opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday for an enormous veterans job fair at the Washington Convention Center, hundreds of job-seekers had shown up and were going through security, getting in lines and signing up for interviews.
“It was already packed,” said John Sepulveda, assistant secretary for human resources and administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some veterans showed up at the convention center on Tuesday and were told to return the next day, he said
Army Staff Sgt. Adam Porras was one of thousands of veterans and service members who showed up for the VA-hosted Veteran Career Fair and Expo.
After meeting with a résumé coach, Porras waited patiently in the federal job center line, hoping to find an employer willing to talk to him about a job as he prepares to leave the Army. “With the job market the way it is, I’m not sure how it will go,” Porras said.
Porras, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during a 2009 rocket attack at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Porras’s service dog, Atlas, lay at his feet, helping to keep his owner balanced and calm.
“Were it not for him, I’d be running out of here,” said Porras. “It’s too big of a crowd for me.”
The large turnout, at least in part, reflected the high unemployment rate for post-Sept. 11 veterans, which stood at 13.1 percent as of last month.
About 6,400 jobs in the public and private sectors were advertised as available, including 800 with the federal government.
“The whole federal government is stepping up here,” John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel and Management, said during a visit to the expo. “It’s a phenomenal response — all the agencies are here.”
“We’re telling the federal agencies, ‘We’ve got hiring authority: Use it, use it, use it,’ ” said Mary Santiago, director of VA’s federal employment services office.
The departments of Defense, Labor and Homeland Security had job openings, as well as the Philadelphia police department and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said more job fairs will be held. “This is just one piece,” Shinseki said. “We’ll take lessons from this and go to other regions.”
As of mid-afternoon, more than 3,600 veterans had registered for the fair, and more than 2,500 had met with coaches to improve and create a new résumé.
At the halfway point, more than 1,200 interviews had taken place, including 830 veterans being considered by private-sector companies and 400 being considered by federal agencies.
Some in attendance said that they were frustrated by the long waits and chaotic atmosphere. Lines of a hundred or more people waiting to speak to résumé coaches snaked through the hall.
“You learn each time,” Berry said. “We learned we need more coaches.”
Dozens more job-seekers milled in the hallway outside interview rooms. Those chosen for interviews were taken behind drawn blue curtains on the second floor.
Janeka Jones, a 39-year-old retired Air Force captain from Stafford County, emerged with a job in the workforce management and consulting office at the Veterans Health Administration.
Jones has been working as a technical writer for a federal contractor but was worried her position might be eliminated.
“I was looking for some level of stability,” she said.
The DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement table was swamped with applicants. “It was pretty hectic there,” said Chad Fraley, an Air Force veteran who flew in from Little Rock and received a job offer from ICE. “A lot of people looking for jobs.”
Not all were lucky. “Today was mostly unproductive, unfortunately,” said Farlan Bingham, a 35-year-old Army veteran who lost his job last month.
Bingham waited in a long line to speak to a résumé coach, but when he got to the front, he was told that he needed to print out documents. When he returned with the documents, he was directed back to the end of the line. He spent four hours in various lines, but in the end, he said, “I really didn’t get to talk to anyone.”
Porras did not receive any job interviews. A job fair worker was apologetic, explaining that there was a large backlog because of the heavy turnout, and assured him that he would receive a follow-up call.
“It’s still promising,” Porras said.