CAPITOL HEIGHTS – Veterans flocked to one of the county’s newest playgrounds on Monday, but they were there to work. On Jan. 9, the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) welcomed veterans to Dave & Buster’s in Capitol Heights for a job and resource fair catered specifically to local veterans. More than 300 veterans […]
CAPITOL HEIGHTS – Veterans flocked to one of the county’s newest playgrounds on Monday, but they were there to work.
On Jan. 9, the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) welcomed veterans to Dave & Buster’s in Capitol Heights for a job and resource fair catered specifically to local veterans. More than 300 veterans registered to attend the event and spoke with potential employers as well as agencies and organizations dedicated to connecting them with other services they may need, such as healthcare, training and housing.
The event was part of “Operation 500,” the EDC’s push to get veterans hired. Walter Simmons, director of the workforce services division at the EDC, said veterans represent a large portion of the unemployed population in the county.
“We decided veteran employment and unemployment would be a priority because we read the statistics,” he said. “Prince George’s County is number one in the state of Maryland for veterans’ unemployment, and Maryland is always number one or number two in the country of veterans’ unemployment. So it’s our job to connect these unemployed veterans to the businesses in the county.”
So far, the initiative has resulted in more than 100 veterans finding jobs, according to the EDC. Simmons added on average, 20 to 25 veterans got job offers at each of the EDC’s previous job fairs.
One of the success stories from Operation 500 is Ronald Hopkins, an Air Force veteran who now works at the EDC himself. Hopkins said he was hired just a week after attending the first veterans’ job fair, held in 2016.
“I really didn’t expect to get hired initially. But I met with so many different employers, and everyone was very helpful,” Hopkins said. “Usually you have to follow up yourself. Everyone kept saying, ‘go online, submit an application.’ And I was going to do those things, but I actually got a telephone call. They said they looked at my resume, and would I come in for an interview? And that’s what I did and that’s why I’m here.”
Hopkins said the fair was valuable for him because he got to speak with so many different employers and share his resume widely.
In addition to employers like Pepco (with 460 openings to fill from mechanics and technicians to designers), Dave & Busters (400 open positions), and the county department of corrections (105 openings for officers), Monday’s fair also featured organizations dedicated to helping veterans, like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the county department of human services and private companies like Per Scholas, which provides free information technology and cybersecurity training.
Skills and assistance gained through resources like that are often just as important to veterans as a job itself, said Laurie Artis, a Marine Corps veteran and owner of Civility Management Solutions, a government contracting company focusing on professional services. Artis said helping veterans build intangible, interpersonal skills is important to their success after they get out.
“One of the things I have acknowledged as a woman veteran – I’ve been out for a while – are the challenges in the veterans becoming employed,” Artis said. “We come from a different language, we come from a different culture. So when you get out you are now introduced to a totally different culture. Some of those matters, despite your job skills, are where you actually can fall short. I think it’s just as important that when you actually hire a veteran, you focus on human capital training with them.”
But the EDC believes skills veterans do pick up on the job make them valuable employees.
Jim Coleman, the EDC’s chief executive officer, said the employers want to hire veterans because they are dedicated workers.
“Veterans have the kind of skills these employers are looking for – they’re dependable, they’re reliable. They’re good with math, they’re good with organizing different types of projects,” Coleman said. “Most of all, they’re committed. So you bring them on board, you tell them what to do, they get the job done, no matter what.”
Mike Maxwell, vice president of asset management at Pepco, said veterans’ dedication to serving others fits well with his company’s mission.
“I think veterans have the unique kind of skill set that fits the kind of environment that we have. We have guys that work out in the field, they work 24 hours a day. We’re an essential service provider, so being able to respond to emergencies kind of aligns with what veterans do as part of their whole life,” Maxwell said.
EDC efforts to aid the county’s unemployed veterans will continue. Simmons said the EDC plans to host veterans’ job fairs each month, as well as launch a new initiative at the end of January specifically targeting 100 veterans over the next two years who want to find jobs or start a business.
“We’re not stopping in January. We’re going to have veterans employment events monthly until we know every veteran that wants employment has been connected,” he said.