Workers who set up big trade show and convention floors are often under intense deadline pressure to deliver an environment for events that draw millions of people to Las Vegas to conduct business.
So Global Experience Specialists, one of Southern Nevada’s leading convention supply and service companies, is drawing from a pool of workers who have a reputation for not cracking under pressure — military veterans.
Since October, GES, a division of Phoenix-based Viad Corp, has stepped up its recruitment of former military personnel to capitalize on their ability to manage people and logistics. Company executives have found that veterans possess specialized skills that can be utilized in the trade-show environment.
GES has 27 veterans in its Southern Nevada work force.
“I think a lot of the connection is the structured environment,” said Randon Lessing, a 24-year-old electrical operations manager who once was a unit supply clerk specialist with the Southern Utah Artillery Unit of the Army Reserves.
Former Capt. Amy Ciaravolo uses the organizational skills she acquired as a contract specialist in Nellis Air Force Base’s 99th Contracting unit and during her deployment to Iraq to work as a strategic buyer for GES. She drafted contracts and requisitioned supplies with the Air Force;. Now, she develops similar contracts to acquire the materials and equipment in GES’s role of supplying customers with materials for the booths they build at trade shows.
Another electrical operations manager at GES got his utility experience on an aircraft carrier. Joseph Sunley, formerly a second-class petty officer in the Navy, got a year and a half of nuclear power training before being assigned to the USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Sunley received more conventional training and experience when he worked on high-volume air conditioning and heating units in hotels, hospitals, colleges and high-rise buildings in California and Southern Nevada.
He said he didn’t know much about GES when he was recruited, but quickly found that convention set-ups and tear-downs required similar long and unusual hours that he experienced in the Navy.
On the Enterprise, it wasn’t unusual to put in 120-hour work weeks, he said. For major conventions, like the International Consumer Electronics Show, it takes 17 days for a show to move in and 3½ days to move out, with laborers often working through the night to meet set-up deadlines.
By bringing aboard such veterans as Sunley, Lessing and Ciaravolo, all of whom ended their military careers within the last six years, GES is taking a small step toward easing high unemployment among recent veterans. The unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had been running as high as 12.5 percent a year ago, but recent reports suggest that the tide is turning. Public and private initiatives aimed at putting veterans to work have resulted in the overall unemployment for veterans falling to 7.6 percent.
GES recruiters say the ability of military personnel to work well under pressure makes them good fits for their logistics jobs.
“The challenge is coming up with solutions to unexpected scenarios when they present themselves,” Sunley said.
While GES organizes for CES year-round, occasional glitches occur in the final set-up, such as an exhibitor needing a greater power supply or more outlets than initially planned. In his civilian role, Sunley has to come up with solutions on the fly.
The three GES workers say it’s a different type of stress they experience today than in their military days.
Ciaravolo lived and worked in a combat zone where her unit’s dining facility burned down. Sunley received an achievement medal for his actions in handling an emergency when the Enterprise struck a sand bar.
“I think a lot of what we saw in the military is that individually, we may not fully understand the significance of a particular task,” Ciaravolo said. “But it all fits into a bigger picture and when it’s completed, you have a sense of accomplishment that you participated in something that’s really important.”
While the three veterans said their best days in the military centered around being commissioned and the pride they felt as Americans serving their country, Sunley said he felt similar pride on the day GES completed the set-up for CES.
“When CES opened, I saw how big it was and was just excited to in some way be a part of it,” he said.