Allenstown resident Geoff LoPresti spent four years in the U.S. Army where he specialized in repairing and maintaining tanks.
Finding a job in the civilian workforce where he can use those skills isn't easy, and Lopresti was one of a crowd of veterans looking for career opportunities at Hiring Our Heroes, a job fair for veterans hosted by the Army National Guard Armory in Nashua.
Sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thursday's job expo was organized by the New Hampshire Employment Security, the Department of Labor, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, the American Legion and the Veterans Administration. Roughly 60 businesses with job openings set up recruitment tables throughout the armory.
LoPresti said he talked to several companies and picked up a couple of good leads.
"I handed out two resumes," he said, adding that he was interested in job possibilities with a military contractor.
"I can cross over to heavy equipment, too," he said. "There are some openings there."
Although New Hampshire's unemployment rate is 5.2 percent, well below the national average, the unemployment rate for local vets was 6.4 percent in 2012.
"This event is our attempt to get vets who are out of work back to work," said George Copadis, commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security. "We are trying to support veterans who supported us."
But veterans who are back home re-establishing their lives face unexpected challenges as they re-enter the workforce.
Despite the fact that many vets leave military service with advanced training and skills, many have problems transferring that experience to the civilian workforce. That's where Department of Defense Employment Transition Coordinator John Willbarger steps in.
"There are programs and workshops that help veterans identify their transferable skills," said Willbarger, adding that those skills can include everything from leadership and management to specific technical abilities and expereince.
Willbarger said there's also a movement afoot to recognize military certifications in certain fields and to issue or streamline the requirements for veterans to obtain equivalent civilian certifications .
"But really, the biggest bang for my buck is to network with employers," said Willbarger. "About 85 percent of all jobs are found through networking, and that's what I tell veterans — network, network, network."
Maj. Gen. William Reddel, the adjutant general of the New Hampshire National Guard, agreed that matching military experience with civilian job opportunities can take time. But Reddel has other concerns about veterans in the job market.
"There's a stigma attached to vets," said Reddel. "People think everyone comes back with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury."
Reddel and others feel some employers are reluctant to hire veterans. They hope that by meeting and talking at events such as Hiring Our Heroes, those concerns can be put to rest.
To qualify for a table at the job fair, businesses were required to have immediate openings. Business reps from local manufacturers, banks, restaurants, high tech companies and dozens of other agencies and services collected resumes, names and telephone numbers.
"I'm hopeful," said Gabrielle Tremblay of SMX Staffing of Nashua. "We have warehouse jobs, and in October, we are going to need 100 to 150 people."
Tremblay also said that workers hired for temporary jobs through staffing agencies often land full-time, permanent positions.
Deb Monty of IPG Photonics in Manchester posted a list of available positions at her booth.
"We're looking for assemble technicians," said Monty who also seemed optimistic about several candidates.
Paul Hatch, an Employment Security veterans representative, said veterans need to get out and introduce themselves to employers.
"They need to talk to everyone," Hatch said. "And if they go to an employer who's not the right match, they should ask about other companies."
Hatch said the key is to keep talking and making connections.
"That's what's so good about a job fair like this," he said. "It's the perfect captive audience."