If retired Army National Guardsman Kevin Garner hadn't attended the 2012 Fort Rucker Job Fair, he may have missed one of the best career opportunities of his life.
"I am one of the success stories," said the former military maintenance test pilot, who credits the annual Job Fair for paving the way for his job and relationship with American Eurocopter at its Columbus, Miss., facility.
The 325,000 square-foot facility there produces the Army's UH-72A Lakota, a light utility helicopter used primarily for aero-medical evacuation and routine air transport missions. Garner is an engineer at the facility.
Human Resources Recruiter Beth Cook said Garner is doing "great work," and she's delighted to be able to say that "I picked Kevin" from the multitudes of Job Fair attendees as a top candidate for the Eurocopter job.
Cook will be returning on behalf of American Eurocopter to Enterprise July 25 for the 10th Annual Fort Rucker Area Job Fair. More than 9,200 available jobs will be marketed by a diverse group of vendors who will set up in four gymnasiums at Enterprise High School. Thousands of job seekers are expected to descend upon EHS between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to find their pathway to success just as Garner did.
The Job Fair annually draws 2,000 to 3,000 people hoping to be matched up with companies needing employees. This year, about 100 companies will be represented from a diverse blend of local businesses, government contractors and federal agencies. Job opportunities are available in a variety of fields such as aviation, retail, logistics, medical, food service, administration, and sales.
"That (2012) Job Fair was very important to me," said Garner one afternoon recently from his office in Columbus, recalling the decision he made last year to attend. "I would have never known Eurocopter was looking for this type of engineer if I hadn't gone."
Defense budget cutbacks and belt-tightening measures by military-related companies had put many jobs in defense communities on the chopping block this time last year. Garner's former job was one of them. The former Daleville resident had been laid off after only four months as a degreed senior aeronautical engineer with a local contractor.
Looking for another means of livelihood and a place where he could utilize his skills, Garner came to the Job Fair with an impressive employment history, which included considerable experience as a test pilot, having served while in the military in 11 different countries - Europe, Iraq and Africa among them. He also had received a degree from the Tennessee Space Institute as a certified flight test engineer. All of his experience had been in helicopters such as the legendary UH-1H Huey and the AH-1 Cobra as well as some of the modern airframes.
When she met Garner, Cook was at the Job Fair here for the third year, though her company had been represented for several years more. Impressed with the Job Fair, she said the company participates because the local area has prospective employees, like aviation retirees, with the skill sets that Eurocopter needs.
With the Aviation Campus of Wallace Community College located in Ozark, the communities surrounding Fort Rucker have people trained in airframe and powerplant maintenance, avionics and flight technology.
"We need aircraft experience," she said. "And it is very difficult to find people with that experience in our area." The nearest airframe training school is nearly 50 miles away from Columbus, she explained, and taking the time to have the employees trained from scratch is expensive and time-consuming.
"We like to have applicants who have some knowledge and who know some of the very specific terms that are used in this industry," Cook added.
Employees must have specific abilities as well, she said. Aviation sheet metal mechanics are needed, along with helicopter mechanics who can work on the Turbomeca Arriel 1E2 turboshaft engines that are used in the Lakota.
American Eurocopter's success in finding employees in the local area are evident in its workforce. In fact, Garner now works with several people from the Wiregrass, including some formerly employed at Napier Field's Pemco World Air Services plant, which shut down about a year ago.
Garner sees the Job Fair as an event that can turn lives around, and can be true to its mantra, "Come Find Your Pathway to Success."
"The Job Fair really exposed me to other aviation companies that had positions for pilots, engineers … just a gambit of jobs," he said. "It gave me a good face-to-face with people who had influence in the hiring."
In fact, Garner left the Job Fair with several possibilities that turned into job offers. He opted for American Eurocopter, he said, largely because of Cook and her enthusiasm about and belief in the company, and the knowledge that gave her the ability to match his skills with the job.
"American Eurocopter is a fantastic company," Garner said. "It's people-oriented. They really take care of their people, and they have a great benefits package."
Keys to success at the Job Fair include follow-up, on the part of both the companies who meet prospective employees, and the job seekers themselves. After Cook tapped Garner as a great candidate for the engineer's job she had in mind, the follow-up was important.
Garner said he would advise anyone seeking a specific position with a specific company to tailor their resume for that job. Garner said he researched the company, mostly online. When he received the job description of the position he wanted, Garner said he "pulled things from my resume that would apply to the job description and put them in more detail in my cover letter."
Researching the company, studying the job description and highlighting his skills that were specifically mentioned in the job description were vital, he believes, to his selection for the job.
He pointed out that job seeking isn't necessarily easy, and applicants should prepare to represent themselves well at the Job Fair. Organizers advise applicants to come dressed appropriately for interviews, and to bring at least 10 copies of their resumes.
Marketing the best candidate for the most suitable job can be tough tasks, and both Garner and Cook appreciate events like the Fort Rucker Job Fair that help to make it easier.
The Fort Rucker Job Fair is sponsored this year by the Army Community Service Employment Readiness Program and Alumni Program, and the Enterprise and Daleville Chambers of Commerce.
INFORMATION SOURCE: Daleville Chamber of Commerce