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Agencies Market Military Acumen

Job-placement firms connect former armed services personnel with selective employers.

May 26, 2003|Patricia Ward Biederman | Times Staff Writer

What's next for returning military personnel after they kiss their loved ones hello? Thousands will be looking for work in one of the toughest job markets in years.

Karin Markley of Chatsworth saw an opportunity. A year ago, she started Military Exits, a Web-based placement agency for those leaving the armed services -- or "transitioning out," in military jargon.

Free to job seekers, Military Exits is among a growing number of employment agencies and related businesses that cater to former military personnel and their families. This labor pool is substantial. According to the Defense Department, about 200,000 people leave the military each year.

Markley and her staff interview job seekers and potential employers, looking for good matches. She said she works with about 200 employers and has several thousand resumes on file. Employers pay $4,995 a year for access to the Web site, whose motto is "Hiring America's Heroes."

Bill Gaul, chief executive of Destiny Group, a San Diego-based firm that provides the database for about 30 military-oriented Web sites, said former service members have an edge in today's tight market.

"Over the last 10 years, there's been such a renewed interest in men and women who have served, not just for their sacrifices, but for their skill sets," Gaul said. "Employers were most impressed with what they saw on TV during the war, and they want that talent, that take-charge, get-it-done mentality."

Ex-military personnel have traditionally been sought by the aviation and defense industries. Markley said employers sometimes forget, however, that the armed services also train and employ cooks, teachers, engineers, mechanics, nurses, information-technology specialists -- almost all the occupations of civilian life.

"A large part of military training is responding to problems that arise, and that attribute is much sought after by the business community," said Trevor Darby, who operates Chicago-based Integrity Recruiting Group Inc. A former Australian infantry officer, Darby said he has contracts with 23 employers, including the U.S. Postal Service, and about 18,000 ex-military job seekers in his database. Seasoned mechanics are among the most in demand, he said.

Yet despite their skills, people coming out of the service often are uncertain how to present themselves in interviews.

"In the service, you don't go for interviews," said Wanda Colbertson, director of employment readiness at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. "You don't put in a resume to get another job. You're assigned."

Air Force Reservist David Martin has twice guarded American air bases in the Middle East -- in Kuwait in 2001 and in Saudi Arabia in 2002. Since completing his service in April, the 23-year-old West Hills man has been looking for a job in law enforcement or security. He has talked to 10 prospective employers, including the Torrance Police Department this month.

Martin posted his resume with Military Exits on a friend's advice. He has not had an offer, but he has reason to be hopeful -- several employers have told him that they think former military personnel are more trustworthy than many applicants who have never served.

Torrance Police Lt. Edward La Londe, who works in personnel, said there are 17 openings for officers. He said former military men and women have the requisite physical and leadership skills for police work, the ability to improvise in a crisis and a sense of duty.

"They know how to hold the perimeter at a crime scene for four or five hours in the rain," La Londe said.

Gaul, the CEO of Destiny Group, said the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq war caused patriotism to surge, so "there's now pent-up demand" for this pool of workers.

Employers are aware that today's military is the most technologically sophisticated and has the best educated personnel in history, Gaul said. He pointed to the speed and efficiency with which the military moved heavy equipment to the Middle East during the war in Iraq. FedEx Corp. and other delivery firms are hungry for applicants with those logistics and distribution skills, he said.

What's more, Gaul said, the credential most sought by many employers is security clearance, evidence that the applicant has undergone extensive background checks.

With that in mind, Destiny Group just launched the Internet site Activeclearance.com to increase business with defense contractors and other employers looking solely for applicants vetted by the government. Although the service is free to job seekers, Destiny Group charges employers $3,000 a year for unlimited use of its database.

Many former military personnel are struggling in the labor market. With the weak economy, Gaul said, it is taking them longer to land jobs. Still, he said, they're better off than many without military training or those who came out of the armed forces years ago.

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