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As unemployment spikes, virtual career services help Tampa Bay veterans

In June, the national veteran unemployment rate was up to 8.6 percent, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career service groups have been offering virtual job hunts for Tampa Bay veterans in recent months as they seek to remedy the historic highs in veteran unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

At the start of the year, the national veteran unemployment rate was 3.5 percent. By June, that figure reached 8.6 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national unemployment rate for non-veterans was 11.1 percent in June. The federal numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

Chris Stevens, senior vice president at RecruitMilitary, sees some hope in the national veteran unemployment rate decline since its high in April of 11.7 percent. His company is working to get jobs for veterans, military spouses and active-duty service members transitioning to civilian work.

A few years ago, RecruitMilitary started offering regional career fairs online to help service members looking for work far away from where they were stationed, Stevens said.

In 2019, RecruitMilitary hosted 15 virtual events with 6,241 attendees and 381 employers, according to Shelby West, company spokeswoman. The company has approximately 48 virtual career fairs scheduled from June to December this year, and will add more as needed.

“It’s almost become the new norm,” Stevens said.

On July 16, the company will host a free Tampa virtual career fair with employers trying to fill positions locally and across the country. By July 6, they had more than 30 companies signed up with about 300 job seekers registered, Stevens said.

The company offers webinars that guide job seekers on how to use their virtual platform, which includes private chat rooms with company representatives, Stevens noted. The system allows employer representatives to pull up a job seeker’s resume while they chat and provides applicant contact information, even if an applicant doesn’t attend the live online event.

Employers are listed well in advance of the virtual career fairs, giving participants time to do research, said Tina Eaton, a Family Readiness support assistant who’s working under a contract for the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and looking for a job.

“It speeds up the process,” she said.

Eaton’s contract with the National Guard ends in August, so she’s relying on RecruitMilitary’s resume-building workshops and recently attended one of its national virtual career fairs. She’s among the thousands of military spouses navigating the job hunt during the pandemic.

Also hunting are veterans who lost their jobs in the past few months and those who will be transitioning out of the military into veteran status.

By July 6, about 22 percent of those pre-registered to attend the Tampa virtual event were active-duty military members, Stevens said, with the rest being veterans and military spouses.

Industries hiring in large volumes include distribution, logistics, e-commerce, data storage/broadband, pharmaceuticals and retail, according to West with RecruitMilitary.

On July 1, CareerSource Tampa Bay partnered with Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital Vocational Rehabilitation to host a virtual career fair for veterans, bringing in representatives from T-Mobile, Tampa General Hospital and USAA, said Dan Schneckenburger, director of business services for the CareerSource.

More than 100 veterans and advocates of hiring veterans participated in the event, Schneckenburger said, and they’ll be hosting a similar virtual career fair on July 9 with the Hillsborough County Public Schools.

The Military and Family Readiness Center at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa said in an email that due to COVID-19 and the base’s health protection rules, they’ve altered some of their operations, including postponing an April in-person career fair and turning it into a virtual event in May in collaboration with CareerSource Tampa Bay. The on-base career fairs typically draw 300 job seekers and between 75 and 80 employers.

“The current state of increasing diagnosis and CDC restrictions for safety and social distancing under COVID-19 make using a virtual platform a reasonable way to continue to assist transitioning service members and spouses with employment and network opportunities with employers, while remaining compliant with safety guidelines,” the center stated.

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