JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The first ‘Salutes and Handshakes’ conference was held at East Tennessee State University’s Millennium Centre on Friday.

The goal of the conference is to connect veterans with employers. It offers a space for them to communicate and come to an understanding of each other’s needs.

Salutes and Handshakes was created through a committee and is a result of a partnership between the Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol Chambers of Commerce and local business sponsors.

Organizer and committee chair Rob Campbell, who spoke with News Channel 11 about the event as part of the Veterans Voices series, hopes this event can help combat the workforce shortage.

“There are all these great organizations in the Tri-Cities, great people, but I didn’t see that they were connecting enough,” said Campbell. “And I thought ‘wow what a powerful thing if we could bring them all together.'”

The committee assembled a workforce panel to speak about what employees need to enter the workforce today. It was made up of young veterans, future employees and employers.

“Well, we’re trying to attract and retain talent,” said Campbell. “Who better to talk to than the current talent that we’re trying to attract and retain.”

Panelists speak about their experiences and needs in the workforce (Photo: WJHL).

One member of the panel, Kaitlyn Simerly, is a 26-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who now works for Keller Williams Realty. Simerly agreed to be on the panel to help share her needs as a veteran with the community.

“I think that hearing from the sources, veterans themselves, and people who have experience or like-minded experiences is really beneficial to the workforce because if they implement change into their organization, I think that it would be a good way to retain veterans and any employee,” said Simerly.

Simerly hopes that her voice and experiences can help other people that feel lost in the workforce.

“If I can be a resource to someone who’s recently gotten out or someone who’s even been out for a while, and help them transition or provide them the resources that have been provided to me, then that’s the best thing that I could do for my life,” said Simerly.

Campbell believes the Tri-Cities can be the ‘handrail’ that many young veterans and employees need. He hopes this event starts what he calls an ecosystem beneficial to those who have completed military service.

“Organizations that come together in real-time and are interconnected all the time, constantly, to help each other out. So that’s the wish is the ecosystem that exists beyond this,” said Campbell.