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Skills gap keeping vets from landing jobs

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Unemployment numbers among post 9/11 veterans are almost 2 percent higher than the civilian population, a trend the Veteran's Job Fair at Western Technical College is trying to reverse.

More than 50 businesses and service groups were at the job fair on Wednesday.

The organizer, local veterans employer representative Rick Larson, said last year more than 20 veterans were hired on the spot.

He said job fairs help veterans develop a network, which he said is one of the best ways to find a job.

"They expect you to have the skills when you apply for the job but you need that network to help you. Eighty percent of the people are going to find a job by someone they know so it's very critical to have a network system available for them," said Larson.


For some veterans, networking is not the only challenge.

Some face a gap between what they learned in the military to what they need to know to be hired in the civilian workplace, a problem that didn't take long for Jene Bennett to discover, which sent him on a new mission to close his skills gap.

"It was a quick and painful discovery," said Bennett.

After serving in the Army for 17 years, automotive technician Bennett realized his military skills weren't enough to get him a job.

"Coming out, you discover how more complex things are because you're working on more models of vehicles compared to what I worked on in the Army," said Bennett.

"A lot of the tools are going to be the same but a lot of the technology on the vehicle, a lot of their equipment and vehicles they're going to be working on, is a tactical nature and ours isn't tactical," said Western Technical College automotive instructor Bob Marconi.

Now Bennett is weeks away from graduating from Western Technical College and as he starts his job hunt again, he's much more optimistic.

"I feel confident but I want to get out there and I want to get more training done so I can really establish myself," said Bennett.

Bennett said he's filled a skills gap that many of his fellow soldiers also face.

"Difficulties are pretty uniform, pretty uniform among all of us," said Bennett.

"What has happened in the industry is some of the manufacturing jobs are less, there are less of those jobs out there so for today, the jobs that are available are the jobs that require skills," said Marconi.

But if they can stick with it, instructors in Bennett's program said veterans have an advantage.

"They have that discipline, when the employer asks them to do something they're used to following instructions and listening to those instructions and having again some of those leadership skills," said Marconi.

While Bennett has had to pick up some extra skills, it's character built in the military that's paved the way for his future in the civilian world.

"It's all about mission accomplishment. You have to improvise. You have to adapt. There's no choice in the matter," said Bennett.

Bennett said it's extremely important to get connected with the local veterans services in your community.

He said not only do they help you with the work transition, but they also provide emotional support as well.

Organizers of the Veterans Job fair said about 150 veterans turned out for the event.

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