After he lost his job running a commercial oven, Gilbert Williams was not about to sit around, collecting unemployment.
"I got up every morning as if I was going to work," says Williams, a Vietnam War veteran who was one of 600 employees in Utah and 18,000 nationwide left in the cold when Twinkie maker Hostess Brands went bust in November. He had worked there 14 years.
"I appreciated unemployment, believe me, but I'd rather be working," says Williams. "Unemployment makes you lazy."
It might have been that attitude that led to three job offers by January, including the one he took as a housekeeping aide at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
"When you're unemployed, any job is a good job," says Williams.
Williams' two-month stint among the ranks of unemployed veterans was short. Some are not as fortunate, although fewer vets who want jobs are going without them as the economy improves.
As with the general population, the veteran unemployment rate has improved markedly in the past two years. It still remains higher that the non-veterans' rate, however, and advocacy groups and government agencies remain focused on getting jobs for vets.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, along with First Command and a host of Utah sponsors, plans a "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair for veterans and their spouses Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics' surveys pegged the general jobless rate at 7.9 percent in 2012, and at 9.9 percent for veterans, down from 12.1 percent the year before.
For the youngest veterans, however, the jobless rate was at 20 percent, nearly 4 percentage points higher than for 18- to 24-year-olds in the general population.
Utah's overall employment picture is better. In 2012, unemployment in general was 5.2 percent, and 7.2 percent among veterans in the labor force. The number of young veterans surveyed by the bureau was too low to draw clear conclusions about that group.
According to the survey, though, Utah has 21,000 veterans of the post-9/11 era, and 5,000 are not in the labor force at all.
If Williams' attitude helped him get a job, he is quick to share the credit with the Department of Workforce Services, where veteran representative Ray Stray helped him write a resume, learn to use a computer to look for jobs and then practice interviewing.
Stray, who served in the Air Force from 1986 to 1996, works in the metro office of DWS, near downtown Salt Lake City, and works with many homeless veterans.
Of late, he has been seeing more young veterans, including one who is 20 and was medically discharged after two years of combat.
"It's tough on these guys," says Stray. Many veterans have medical problems that only compound any personal relationship problems, he says.
The DWS has 20 veteran service representatives all veterans who work in 33 employment centers, says Karla Aguirre, director of the workforce development division of DWS.
Veterans get moved to the front of the line for help finding jobs and even get first crack at openings if they qualify for them.
"One of the challenges we have is getting those vets to actually engage with us," says Aguirre. "Sometimes they are not ready to find a job. Sometimes they're out of the labor force."
Hiring Our Heroes
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, First Command and Utah sponsors plan a "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair for veterans and their spouses Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Learn more at http://uscham.com/12TfU36 .