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Hiring Our Heroes draws veterans, bring Cat investment

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Military veterans and those in National Guard and Reserves units were singled out Thursday and were given hope that jobs exist for them and their spouses here and elsewhere.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce brought its Hiring Our Heroes program, now in its second year, to the Peoria Civic Center on Thursday and nearly 80 employers and organizations were there to advise and guide them on what skills are needed and how they can attain those skills.

It was agreed by many there that these veterans and soldiers already possess some of the skills employers want; the kind of intangible skills gained by serving in the U.S. armed forces.

(Photo by Paul Gordon) A veteran of the U.S, armed forces shows his skills on a welding simulator that was part of Caterpillar Inc.'s recruitment display at the Hiring Our Heroes job fair Thursday at the Peoria Civic Center. Nearly 80 employers and organizations were at the job fair, which was for veterans and their spouses as well as personnel in the Guard and Reserves. "The skill sets veterans offer are so unique. These are skills you can't be taught in one training venue but learn," said Shaun Carter, a regional events associate for the U.S. Chamber. Himself a military veteran, Carter added, "We have every attribute employers are looking for."

Yet, he added, unemployment rates are high for veterans and the spouses of active military personnel. For the latter, the rate is nearly 32 percent. "It is such a pervasive issue across the country. That is why the program exists," he said.

Caterpillar Inc. had a large presence at the event, in more ways than one. Not only did the company have numerous recruiters on hand to talk with the heroes about the jobs that are available and what they entail, it announced it is investing $100,000 in the Hiring Our Heroes program.

Marady Leary, director of the Hiring Our Heroes program for the U.S. Chamber, said there was a waiting list of employers and organizations wanting to be involved with Thursday's program, which was in part of the main ballroom at the Civic Center. "There was a lot of excitement about doing the job fair here. That's what we like to see," she said.

The U.S. Chamber partnered with the Illinois Department of Employment Security and the Illinois Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve office for the local event. Leary said at least 300 veterans, guard and reserve personnel and spouses were expected to attend the job fair, which was from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"This job fair is open to any veteran of any war era or those transitioning out of the service," Leary said.

The first year of the program, the U.S. Chamber did 100 Hiring Our Heroes job fairs across the country. This year, it is planning to do 400 of them.

So far Hiring Our Heroes has helped more than 10,000 veterans and spouses find jobs.

Kelly Wojda, director of recruitment for Caterpillar, said the $100,000 investment from the company is one way it can thank veterans and their families. Participating in such programs "helps us make the right connections and it's really good business."

Caterpillar is a finalist for the U.S. Department of Defense's Employer Support Freedom Award, given to employers for exceptional support of employees who serve in the Guard and Reserves.

Wojda said Caterpillar has 2,500 veterans on its U.S. payroll now and is ready to hire more. She said Caterpillar dealers are in need of service technicians.

To that end, part of the Caterpillar display on Thursday was a Caterpillar engine as well as a welding simulator so potential employees could test or display skills they already possess.

Caterpillar's investment will help fund at least 10 Hiring Our Heroes job fairs throughout the country.

"Hiring Our Heroes presents an exciting opportunity for Caterpillar, its dealers and other companies to recruit talented individuals possessing a unique skill set," the company said.

Stu Levenick, Caterpillar group president responsible for customer and dealer support, said veterans of the armed forces "bring maturity, discipline and a strong work ethic to their jobs that were honed during their time in the military. They are just the type of employees U.S. companies need to succeed in our increasingly competitive world."

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).