It began bright and early on a very warm day, and I was glad for the change in venue. This year, it was actually held on Wall Street, and was indoors with air conditioning which made it much nicer for all concerned. Even better, it brought the employers and VSOs together in one area which made it a target rich environment for those attending. Employers had more traditional tables and booths, while the VSOs had smaller round tables interspersed with the employers. This allowed those there to easily find resources even as they went to prospective employers.
Unlike many job fairs, there was one major rule for the employers present: they had to have jobs available now. A minor rule was that they had to be set up by a certain time or their space would go to someone else -- and not only was there a waiting list for prospective employers, there were people on that list present who did get any spaces not set up on time. If a company snoozed, they did lose. It was understoond that they would also have people present capable of making decisions and I think most did so.
Keep in mind that it was not just a job fair, and was not limited just to Wall Street-type jobs. There were a variety of opportunities on the latter, and there was a conference with multiple sessions on the former. The conference was split into two sections: one focused on helping veterans transistion into the civilian workforce, and the other focused on teaching companies and HR departments why veterans make excellent hires. Sadly, I did not get to attend any of of the conference sessions I had planned on. Well, not so sadly as I did not get a break until well after the job fair officially ended as I was talking with veterans and company representatives the entire day. I'm told that the sessions were very well attended, however.
So, the meat of the matter is as follows: Right around 500 job seekers attended; 44 received firm offers that day; 84 provisional offers were extended; 15 secondary interviews were scheduled; and, some 830 interviews were conducted. No, the latter is not a typo -- it means that many attendees interviewed at multiple firms. My thanks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for the figures.
Despite this, I've read a very few complaints about the event. I do have to wonder, however, if one person complaining about it being a "meat market" was the individual who showed up at my table in an outfit that would not have passed muster for a very lenient casual Friday; or the person who was wearing a pink t-shirt; or, the person who showed up in cut-offs...
If you don't show up to an interview (much less a job fair) dressed appropriately, don't expect to be taken seriously. Frankly, it's insulting to the people there willing to interview and hire, much less to those putting it on. It's not like there are not projects in the NYC-area (and others nationwide) to get our troops and veterans into appropriate civilian attire for cheap or for free. Those programs can be fairly easily found, and in this case there is a link in the media section of the VOWS site to a press release about such an effort.
On the complaint that the range of jobs was limited, I have to call BS. There were a range of jobs there, and while not all job fields were represented it was fairly easy to find out in advance what was likely to be there or not be there. That they didn't have the specific job you wanted with all bells and whistles does not mean the event was a bust. It does say much about you that you feel that way, however.
VOWS, and Hiring Our Heroes, is not about a handout, or giving jobs to veterans no matter what. The goal is to open doors that were or are closed. What you do at that point is up to you. They are opening the doors, giving workshops on how to take advantage of that open door, and even providing assistance on doing so. My "neighbor" at the event was a new program from the VA that is focused on that, and I have to admit I took notes on what he was telling people. It is also about educating companies and HR departments on the advantages of hiring veterans, as without that portion all the job fairs in the world will do no good.
Was the event perfect? No, but there are opportunities to provide constructive feedback to the organizers on both sides so that next year can be even better. For me, the new location was a huge step-up, and while I wish we could get power to the tables, I'm more than prepared to work within that limitation next year in order to keep the many advantages of the new location. I might have a few other tweaks to recommend, but nothing major in terms of the job fair portion. I'm sure that some whiners can be found, but much of what I heard in the way of complaints published at the time sounded more like ten percenter sour grapes than valid criticisms. Remember, reporters can always find a complainer. What is missing from such reports are the many positive comments I heard from attendees.
For me, how this was done represents a very good model of how things should be done nationwide. It is not just enough to have a job fair: there have to be real jobs available then; there have to be efforts undertaken to prepare troops and veterans for civilian hiring practices; there have to be efforts to provide the other resources needed (clothing for one example); and, there have to be efforts made to education HR offices and companies on WHY veterans make excellent preferential hires. Frankly, on the latter we can face an uphill fight, especially with the falacious memes of the crazed PTS vet, too dumb to get a real job to start with vet, and other media fantasies.
Yet, it can be done and the VOWS/HoH event shows a good way to do it. I would strongly recommend other areas of the country look at the model, as the numbers show it can and does work. With constructive feedback from all concerned, it can be made even better. For me, I'm already looking forward to next year, and finding ways I can help make it even better.