A career fair for veterans held in San Francisco today hosted a steady stream of attendees who reported cautious optimism, despite months-long job searches.

San Francisco resident Diego Rangel repaired helicopters in Germany during the Carter administration and picked up considerable cooking skills in the Army reserves. “I’m optimistic about staying in the hospitality industry,” he said. However, he was also considering an apprenticeship as an electrician.

Local veterans group Swords to Plowshares, the sponsor of today’s veterans career fair, has taught him that his military training gave him applicable job skills, Rangel said. “Transferable skills,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been learning.”

While military service can impart discipline, specific training and other desirable employee traits, veterans often struggle to communicate how these skills translate into civilian jobs, according to Swords to Plowshares spokeswoman Colleen Corliss.

The military also has its own language and jargon, she said, that can confuse potential employers. “It’s easier to throw out a resume if you don’t understand what it says.”

According to Swords to Plowshares figures, veteran unemployment is between 14 and 18 percent. The latest official figures released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics are for 2008, when 7.3 percent of veterans who had served since September 2001 were unemployed, compared with a national unemployment average of 5.8 percent.

More than 30 schools, agencies and potential employers participated in the fair, which debuted last year. Every employer present, from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to the San Francisco Police Department, has actual job openings, Corliss said.

This year, the organization focused more on long-term career development, and several attendees said the growing green building sector offered real hope for creating jobs.

San Francisco resident Eduardo Rodriguez, 37, said he spent 14 years installing heating and cooling systems after active duty. These days the veteran, who served as a gunner’s mate in Kuwait, is working assorted maintenance jobs, making “enough to get by, but not enough to survive on.”

He handed resumes to several potential employers, and is hoping his experience can help him work in the growing green building industry.

Concord resident and Air Force veteran Anthony Marinaccio, 25, said his nine-month job search gained traction last week, when he applied for a green job-training program through Swords to Plowshares. The organization received a U.S. Department of Labor grant to get Iraq and Afghanistan veterans certified in solar panel installation.

While the grant will pay for his training, books and certification exam, Marinaccio attended the job fair in search of part-time work during his training, and to develop a backup plan in case he does not pass his certification exam.

“I was going at it by myself,” he said of his job search. “I had no idea there were organizations like this out here.”

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