Jackie in the News
Job-hunting veterans in San Bruno look to enlist with Tesla
By Neil Gonzales
Air Force veteran Frank Diokno has doggedly searched for work since becoming unemployed three years ago.
He's sent out three resumes a week and applied for jobs ranging from driving to landscaping.
"Nothing," said Diokno, 57, of South San Francisco, who is married with three children. "That's how tough it's been."
Now he and other job-hunting veterans are trying to find a foothold in the promising field of electric-vehicle production.
On Friday, they marched to Skyline College for a job fair featuring Palo Alto-based Tesla Motors, which took over the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont a year ago and is set to mass-produce its battery-powered Model S sedan.
In assembly-line fashion, Tesla recruiters briefly talked to roughly 80 veterans about opportunities within the company and accepted résumés.
"The timing for this is ideal," recruiter Woody Garrett said of the job fair. "We're in the process of ramping up production for the Fremont factory to build the Model S. The bulk of our hiring is for that workforce."
Tesla intends to fill various other positions in coming months as well, Garrett said, from technicians and engineers to administrators. "It's definitely going to be in the hundreds."
Veterans make good prospective employees, he said -- they're typically "young, disciplined, driven and ethically sound."
"That's the raw criteria you want to start with when you want to build and train a highly productive workforce," he added.
One of the young veterans attending the job fair was former Marine Waael Abuhijab, 27, of San Mateo.
Abuhijab said the manufacture of electric vehicles will only increase over time, and he sees Tesla leading the way. "If I get this, I wouldn't look at it as a job but as a career," he said.
The job fair was among the Earth Day activities at Skyline promoting clean-energy programs and careers. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, participated in the events as a keynote speaker.
"We're glad you're home," Speier told the veterans, many of whom served overseas. "And now that you are home, we want to make sure you have jobs -- jobs of the future."
Today's high gas prices are a symptom of the country's dependence on fossil fuels -- particularly foreign oil, she said. Supporting alternative energy and training people for that field will help the country shed that dependency, she added.
Other efforts are under way to build employment programs connecting veterans with the green industry.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded $2.6 million to the San Mateo County Human Services Agency for a project that prepares unemployed workers -- especially veterans -- for environmentally conscious careers. The funding was part of more than $16 million that the department doled out to organizations and two-year public college districts in California to enhance employment training.
Jarome Vahai, president of the Skyline Veterans Club and an organizer of the Earth Day fair, said he hopes the event with Tesla is the start of a career pipeline benefiting ex-soldiers. Future job fairs involving Tesla could happen on a regular basis, he said, and a veterans training program focused on skills that the company looks for is expected to begin in a few months.
The chance to work for Tesla drew a lot of interest from veterans for a number of reasons, Vahai said.
"I think veterans are tired of going to war because of oil," Vahai said. "When we have the capacity to maintain ourselves by going to electric vehicles, we won't need to go to war because of outside forces."
Veterans are also a highly technical and skilled group because of their experience in electronics and mechanics related to military operations, he said.
Diokno has a logistics background from the Air Force. He was stationed in Qatar and sent supplies to the front lines. He hopes that experience and his other abilities will land him work at Tesla.
"They interviewed me and said they would call me if they need me," said Diokno, who is also studying business administration full time at Skyline. "I'm looking for anything. I'll keep my fingers crossed."
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