Military News

“It’s unprecedented:” JBLM to host its largest veteran job fair next week

Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation have hosted many job fairs for military veterans over the past few years. Next week, they’re teaming up to produce one they say will outdo any of their previous efforts.

They’re calling it the Service Member for Life Transition Summit, and it promises to draw more than 200 employers with immediate openings and at least 4,000 job seekers to JBLM, said base Commander Col. Charles Hodges.

That’s about twice the size of other large military job fairs.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Bryan Goettel, spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program.

But the event has more to offer than a day of swapping resumes and shaking hands.

Over three days, it features workshops to prepare veterans for interviews in different career fields and offers forums for military and political leaders to promote their best programs.

The idea, Hodges said, is for leaders from all of Washington State’s military installations to leave with an understanding of ways they can connect troops with job training before they separate from the Armed Forces.

For instance, commanders at JBLM can free up troops to spend their last months in uniform taking classes that prepare them to find work in the civilian sector.

About 8,000 to 9,000 military service members are expected to separate from the Armed Forces out of JBLM in each of the next few years as the military carries out a postwar drawdown.

“Where the rubber hits the road is with those (military) unit leadership folks,” Hodges said. “We’ll have them aware of all the significant programs that are available here at JBLM and in the state of Washington.”

Hodges also says he has news to break at the conference. Five companies are ready to announce job-training programs at the base south of Tacoma that will lead to guaranteed opportunities for those leaving the military.

It’s the same model JBLM has used to open doors for military service members at Microsoft and with construction-affiliated trades. Other Army posts have been following JBLM’s lead in developing those partnerships with private companies and with unions. The partnerships Hodges plans to unveil next week will give troops opportunities to work in technology, energy and retail fields.

The summit came together with backing from the Washington Military Alliance and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

“We’re thrilled that JBLM has wanted to essentially make this three-day event if not the primary focus on base those three days, then at least a huge emphasis,” Goettel said.

Some of the state’s political leaders who have advanced job-training programs for veterans are expected to speak Tuesday. Among them are Democrats Sen. Patty Murray, who wrote a law in 2011 that required the military to expand job-training programs, and Gov. Jay Inslee, who recently renewed a coalition of state and local government agencies that is charged with preparing for the effects of military downsizing.

On Wednesday, Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer is expected to participate in some of the job-training forums. The former Marine has been working with Hiring Our Heroes to promote efforts to reduce unemployment among veterans.

Veterans who have base access can attend the job fair. It’s also open to family members of military service members. Hodges said all of the companies attending say they have at least five immediate openings.

He’s overseen the base’s increasingly sophisticated transition programs over the past two years. He sometimes jokingly sings a 1980s R&B lyric to explain his approach: “You’ve got to have a J-O-B if you want to be with me.”

“Everyone has veteran-friendly events, I want veteran-ready events,” Hodges said.