By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — One of the 25 employers who participated in a job fair for veterans summed up the event in a few words: “We owe it to them for their service to our country.”
Joseph Soucy, a recruiter for the nonprofit financial services company Modern Woodmen of America, remembers how hard it was to find a job when he returned from overseas in 1992 after serving with the U.S. Army.
“I was terrified. I had no idea what I was going to do,” he said yesterday during a job fair presented by the ValleyWorks Career Center and held in the Hartleb Technology Center on the Haverhill campus of Northern Essex Community College.
“For the guys returning, it’s very important for employers to be here today,’’ he said. “My son is serving with the Army in Afghanistan and he may need something like this when he returns. For employers, it’s paramount to make veteran hiring a priority. We owe it to them for their service to our country.”
Yesterday’s job fair, titled “A Salute to U.S. Military Veterans,” was open to all job seekers, although special emphasis was placed on veterans, who went to the front of the line. The event was held in partnership with the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce.
Roger Andersen, 58, of North Andover served in the U.S. Navy during the 1970s and up until this summer had a good job working at Logan Airport for the Department of Homeland Security. He said he was laid off after being unable to pass one of the many annual certifications needed to retain his job as a lead transportation security officer.
“I have an opportunity to go back to school, which I’m thinking about, but I’m also looking for jobs in the security field as I’m military qualified,” Andersen said. “Losing my job was a big disappointment for me. Fortunately my wife picked up my health insurance and I get unemployment.”
“I think you’re going to see a lot more veterans coming out of the military and looking for jobs,” Andersen said.
Arthur Chilingirian, executive director of the ValleyWorks Career Center, said his organization holds job fairs for veterans once a year, usually around Veterans Day. But because the conference center was not available at that time, the event was postponed to yesterday. Chilingirian said job fairs for veterans are held in communities throughout the state, and noted that November was proclaimed Hire a Veteran Month by Gov. Deval Patrick.
“What’s interesting is this is one of the latest ones we’ve had in terms of the time of year, yet employers still showed up,” Chilingirian said. “They usually don’t do much recruiting at this time of year, yet we have 25 employers hiring for various occupations, and not just retail as you’d expect at this time of year.
“It’s a good size fair for this time of year,” he said.
The event began at 10 a.m. with a line of more than 50 people waiting in the hall outside the door to the Hartleb Technology Center conference center. The line moved quickly and in little time every employer was engaged in conversations with job seekers. Employers offered a range of job opportunities in fields that included health care, finance, quality control, clerical and administrative work, manufacturing, child care teaching, appliance repair and call center work.
Joe Horvath and his wife, Leah Horvath, who are both veterans, drove from their home in Worcester in hopes of him finding a job.
“There’s nothing in our area and when I saw this event advertised online, I thought I had nothing to lose,” said Joe Horvath, 28, who served in the U.S. Air Force as a critical care medic and was looking for a job in the nursing field.
“I’m here to support him and also see what they have to offer,” his wife said.
Eric Nelson, a veterans representative with ValleyWorks, said the challenge of finding jobs for returning veterans is translating their military skills and certifications to civilian jobs.
“With younger veterans returning, it can be difficult to transition,” said Nelson, who assisted job seeking veterans in navigating their way through the job fair.
U.S. Army veteran Laurence Budd, 39, of Bradford said he was laid off in October from a good job in Malden as building superintendent of a large condominium complex.
“It’s been hard finding a comparable paying job,” Budd said while walking from one recruiter’s table to another. “There aren’t enough of these kinds of events for veterans, so to have something set up for us is great.”
Budd said he is optimistic about finding a job and is using every resource available, including the ValleyWorks Career Center.
“When one door closes, other opens,” Budd said. “This job fair is multiple doors.”
Although Erik Syvertson wasn’t looking for a job yesterday, he attended the fair to see what employers had to offer. After serving 14 years with the Air Force, Syvertson, 33, of Merrimac left the military in February and spent six months looking for a job.
“I couldn’t find anything good or related to my skills, so I decided to go back to school,” said Syvertson, who was a security specialist in the military and is now studying physical education at Northern Essex. “I decided to go back to school for something new and exciting.”
Many non-veterans also attended yesterday’s job fair, including Robert Figelski of Boxford. He wore his best suit and tie in hopes of making a good impression that would land him a job as a machine operator or manufacturing assembler. Figelski said he was laid off from a job in Beverly two months ago and was hopeful of finding another position.
“The more I get my name out there, the better off I’ll be,’’ Figelski said.
Samantha Young of Haverhill was working for a firm in Tewksbury as an administration support/executive assistant until she was laid off in May.
“This is my first job fair and I didn’t know what to expect,” Young said. “I’m pleasantly surprised at how well organized it is and how many resources are available. Hopefully, through networking, it will lead to employment.”
Chilingirian estimated that nearly 400 people attended the fair.
“I spoke to many people who said they were able to set up interviews,’ he said, “so that’s a good sign that people are hiring.’’