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Good and Bad of the Veterans’ Jobs Picture

By Rick Rogers

Two job surveys on veteran hiring offer reasons for optimism, while also shedding light on challenges facing former service members.

On the whole, unemployment among veterans remains a vexing subject, with 30 percent of those ages 18 to 24 without jobs compared with 18 percent of their civilian counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That percentage would be much higher if more than 300,000 veterans weren’t going to school under the post-9/11 GI Bill, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

So what’s holding veterans back, and what will it take to turn that around?

It’s an important question here in North County San Diego, home to many of the 30,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns living in the county, the most anywhere in the nation.

It’s also a question on the minds of senior military leaders like Marine Commandant James Amos, who once commanded the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at MCAS Miramar.

“How could we have a young sergeant or corporal that led Marines in combat … get out and he can’t get a job?” asked Amos. “Then somewhere along the line, he ends up homeless. How can that be?”

In May, dombat veteran Chad Storlie, author of “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader: 20 Lessons to Advance Your Civilian Career,” conducted a survey to find out.

Earlier in the year, the Society for Human Resource Management, the largest such organization of its kind in the world with nearly 600 chapters, did its own survey.

Taken together, they tell a complex tale of how employers view veterans while also offering them ways to better their job prospects.

The human resource survey, in particular, exposed disconnects in the hiring process as well as gaps in employer education that senior Pentagon leaders have yet to close.

Concisely put, employers want to hire veterans. They possess many qualities that employers covet, such as showing up on time and working hard.

But companies are in turns frustrated and concerned, said Nancy Hammer, a senior official at the Society for Human Resource Management, where she oversees initiatives to hire veterans.

“Our members have reported a couple of things that might be the problem,” said Hammer. “Of the HR professionals who are real interested in hiring veterans, and there are a lot of them, they are having a hard time knowing where to go to get the veterans with the skills they need.

“I think the other part of it is, we can do a little better job at preparing our veterans for the job search,” Hammer continued, such as when they are transitioning out of the military, “helping them craft a resume that is going to make sense to HR professionals in the civilian world.”

Some of those hiring concerns will be addressed at a 12,000-strong human resources conference in Las Vegas next week.

First, the good news arising from the studies: 83 percent of employers, according to Storlie’s survey, said military skills and values, such as teamwork, high ethical standards, strong work ethic and attention to detail, are vital to their company’s success.

“The bottom line,” Storlie said, is that “translated military skills are vital for the career success of the veteran and equally vital for the company to succeed. Translated military skills to business make both the veteran and the company better and more successful.”

Now some of the challenges.

  • There is near-unanimity among employers on the virtues vets can bring to the workforce, but there is also near-unanimity that veterans are not putting their best foot forward. A scant 8 percent are adequately explaining how their military service can benefit a potential civilian employer.
  • 46 percent of employers in the human resources survey cited concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury in veterans they might hire. Hammer said that might be a case where education and outreach by the Defense Department could allay fears.
  • On another front, the Society for Human Resource Management survey offered blunt advice to disabled veterans —- a population that numbers more than 30,000 in San Diego County alone (including disabled veterans from WWII, Korea and Vietnam) —- who are looking for work: Update job skills and don’t rely on your disabilities to find work.
  • Both surveys found veterans need better individual transition plans. This means self-assessments to determine strengths and weaknesses and possible retraining to land a job.

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