While there has been some good news for job seekers in recent months as the economy sputters along in a halting “recovery,” one group has still been largely left behind: Younger veterans.
According to this NPR report, the unemployment rate among former warriors between ages 18 and 24 was over 20 percent last year, and was also over 10 percent for older veterans between 25 and 34. This cohort would include junior NCOs and junior officers who finished their initial service obligations with management and leadership experience – some of it extremely intense – who are also struggling to be accepted in the civilian workplace.
It’s a strange set of circumstances, because many employers value the maturity, discipline and ability to perform under stress that many servicemen and women develop by starting their careers in the military.
The Federal government – one of the few large employers that has actually expanded its employment rolls over the last five years – grants veterans preference on civil service exams. They have created a website, Vetsuccess.gov, devoted to connecting veterans with jobs called and Walmart – the giant big-box retail chain – has announced plans to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years.
Beginning this Memorial Day, Walmart has also publicly committed to hiring any honorably discharged veteran who applies within 12 months of leaving active duty.
That’s good, but the bulk of Walmart’s work-force consists of retail and stock work at $8-10 per hour. Walmart isn’t even promising a 40 hour week. In this day and age, with the job-killing features of the Affordable Care Act taking hold, few employers are – and many employers are actively slashing their roster of full-time workers, limiting employees to 20 hours per week to sidestep the onerous health insurance mandates.
Moving up the employer food chain, however, there are some other opportunities. For those who are entrepreneurial-minded, for example, the financial advisory firms Edward Jones and Bank of America Merrill Lynch have also rolled out programs to attract and recruit military veterans into their ranks of financial advisors.
Edward Jones is looking to hire 500-800 military veterans per year over the next eight years.
What do employers like about veterans? For one thing, they can be reasonably confident there is no significant history of criminality – at least for recently discharged veterans. If there were criminal behavior, it would generally be reflected in the discharge status. Additionally, possession of a security clearance also indicates that the veteran has passed a detailed review of his or her personal conduct. Veterans have a good reputation in the work force for trust and integrity, says James Schmeling, managing director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families in an interview with Financial Planning magazine.
For more detailed information on initiatives to hire veterans within the financial services industry, see the Financial Planning feature here.
Veterans also have other resources to assist them with job-hunting, from contacts within Guard and Reserve units they often join after leaving active duty to specialized job fairs, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Hire a Hero” campaign. The Chamber of Commerce sponsors regular job fairs across the country in which employers get a chance to connect with veterans and those still in the military who are about to enter the civilian work force.
A new social networking site, RallyPoint, has also evolved to meet the demand, as a sort of LinkedIn for military and veterans.
In some cases, too, veterans are choosing to skip going directly to the civilian full-time labor force, choosing to use their GI Bill benefits to enroll in school full time.
Indeed, the Post 9/11 GI bill has increased participation dramatically, from 366,000 veterans in 2010 to over 646,000 last year, according to NPR’s reporting.
How can you maximize your chances of success transition from the military to the civilian workforce?
1. Have someone look over your resume. Military people are notoriously bad at keeping jargon out of their resumes. Speak with someone you trust in the civilian world with business experience and have them see if your resume makes sense to them. (I recommend doing this all the time. It’s a great icebreaker and could well lead to your next job right there).
2. Emphasize leadership and responsibility. Many combat arms troops think they don’t have marketable skills. But leadership is very marketable, if presented right.
3. ETS to where the jobs are. This might not be where your family is or where your favorite duty station is. Schofield Barracks and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii are great places to live. But not if you want to get into petroleum engineering. You might need to head to North Dakota.
4. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t just go to the same places your buddies are going to.
5. Think five years ahead or more. It may be tempting to go back to Afghanistan or Iraq as a contractor. But those efforts are likely to scale back significantly in the years ahead. What then?