Those who call WorkSource Yakima can press “4” if they’re a veteran looking for work.

It’s a subtle — but clear — indication of the efforts by WorkSource Yakima and other agencies throughout the state to help veterans secure jobs.

Much of that effort goes into helping veterans articulate the value of the skills and experience gained from their service.

That’s a tough task for veterans once surrounded by others who understood military jargon.

Clinton Hede has worked for years to help veterans describe their military service in a way that is attractive to nonmilitary employers.

“There’s this automatic perception that (serving in the military always) involves combat,” said Clinton Hede, a local veterans employment representative for several WorkSource offices, including in Union Gap, where he is based.

Core job skills

Judy Kendall served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1991, so she knows the value of veterans in the workplace.

Today she is the senior manager for human resources for Yakima County. She’s played a crucial role in helping Yakima County boost its hiring of veterans, an effort that has received statewide recognition.

During the last fiscal year, from July 2017 to June 2018, about 6.3 percent of Yakima County’s hires were veterans, close to the 6.4 percent federal benchmark it has to meet to retain funding. That percentage was even higher in specific departments, such as with the Yakima County Department of Corrections, which was at 13.3 percent.

Regardless of rank, veterans gain the same core set of skills during military service, such as the ability to work under pressure, focus and pay attention to detail, Kendall said.

The military also has plenty of training on safety and health standards, which would be valuable in a job that requires close attention to regulation and policy, Kendall said. “That’s ingrained in them,” she said.

Kendall said the goal is to hire the best person for the job, but when the county makes a concerted effort to increase veteran applicants, it boosts the chances that someone from that pool is the most qualified.

To that end, she stays in close touch with veteran organizations and those who work closely with veterans, such as Hede at WorkSource Yakima. She also makes sure the county has a presence at job fairs and events where veterans would be attending.

She also equips recruiters with tools that help them better identify veterans who meet the qualifications and skills needed for a given position. One such tool is O*NET, through which recruiters and job seekers can discover civilian careers and jobs that require skills they used in their military service.

Two months ago, Kendall hired Douglas Gallagher, 42, for a recruiter position.

Gallagher spent the first 17 years of his 23-year U.S. Army service in the infantry but had to step away due to injury. He ended up working as an Army recruiter for six years in Yakima. Over that time, Gallagher found that he enjoyed the job and liked working with people. Also, it was a position that provided a natural transition into the human resources field.

Still, Gallagher had trouble during his nine-month job search. He struggled when he realized during interviews that employers couldn’t understand much about his work in the military.

“For the last 23 years, I’ve been with military people for the most part … we’re all using the same language,” he said. “Even the friends I made here, they were prior military. I didn’t have to adjust my language. They understood what I was talking about.”

Gallagher got the job with Yakima County, but he also gained knowledge on what to do during his next job search.

He learned that tailoring a resume to a job — a good tip for any applicant — was especially crucial for veterans. Instead of detailing every aspect of his military experience, Gallagher realized there was value in reserving the most space for the parts of his service that was relevant for a specific job.

For example, he might emphasize overseeing 30 soldiers during various deployments in a job that requires management skills.

“Now that I look back, I could see how something that seemed important to me would not seem important to an employer,” he said.

Employment resources

David Brown is another veteran who works for Yakima County. As Yakima County’s veteran coordinator, he connects veterans with resources that assist a transition to civilian life, such as employment.

While Brown feel there’s been an increased effort to help veterans seeking employment, there are still many who don’t realize these services and resources exist. Many veterans, even now, still feel they’re on their own.

“It was hard when you first get out,” he said.

Jesus Gil knows how that feels. Back in 2001, Gil enlisted in the U.S. Army after spending years struggling to find work as a mechanic.

When he returned to civilian life in 2008, he still had trouble securing work. He ended up working in a furniture store for minimum wage while he kept looking. He eventually found a job working as a mechanic for a waste services company, but the hours kept him away from his family more than he would like. He is now unemployed after working a seasonal job for a local hop company.

Gil, 38, recently had a job interview he felt went well. As of Monday, he was still waiting for a response.

He is open to different jobs, even starting a new career. He said he would love to participate in an apprenticeship program that offered a paycheck and on-the-job training.

However, while Gil is still looking for that ideal job and career, he does feel good about one thing: He knows the skills he gained from serving in the Army, such as organization and discipline, would be attractive to employers.

“I know what I’m able to provide,” he said. “I know what skills I have.”

Reach Mai Hoang at maihoang@yakimaherald.com or Twitter @maiphoang