By Brittany Barry
Unemployment has been a constant topic of discussion in the political sphere, with both presidential candidates discussing how they will fix the problem if given a chance. Individuals in differing sectors of the civilian workforce are searching for new employment, and among these job seekers are veterans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in August 2012 the overall veteran unemployment rate was 6.6 percent. This equates to 720,000 veterans, a decrease of 32,000 from July. The military spouse unemployment rate, which is at 28 percent, is even more shocking. However, the greatest concern is for veterans in the 18 to 24 year-old age group, where the unemployment rate is 19.9 percent, approximately 45,000 veterans. Compared to the 15.6 percent unemployment rate for the civilian counterpart, veterans still are placed in a predicament as they transition from the military to civilian workforce.
Many veterans face obstacles that their civilian counterparts do not have to overcome. One reason younger veterans remain unemployed is largely due to these individuals belonging to National Guard and Reserve units. These troops could be deployed for six months to more than a year, leaving companies without an employee and often having to rely on a temporary worker. Many employers would rather hire someone who can commit long term to their company and therefore purposefully do not hire candidates who are connected to the National Guard or Reserve.
Another obstacle is the stigma associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. While talking about this condition allows veterans and service members to seek help, the civilian workforce continues to view PTSD as an unwanted workplace risk. Believing all veterans are ticking time bombs and unstable, employers shy away from hiring them. While PTSD is a legitimate condition that many veterans deal with on a daily basis, it normally does not hinder a veteran’s work performance or commitment to accomplishing goals within a company. However, employers remain in the dark about the truth behind PTSD, relying only on film and media depictions, and therefore turn away qualified veteran candidates.
A third obstacle that is cited by employers as a reason why veterans are not hired is the inability of applicants to translate military skills into terms civilian employers can understand. Service members are accustomed to supervisors understanding military acronyms and deducting what skills and qualifications are reflected with rank promotions and awards. However, employers and companies in corporate America are at a loss when words like “MOS” and “MRAP” appear on a resume. Breaking down specific requirements for a promotion, such as listing “the ability to plan and coordinate training,” or “responsibility for mentoring other service members,” will resonate more with a company than just writing “promoted to SSgt. in December 2008.” Employers have a limited knowledge of military training, certifications, promotions, and deployment missions, and veterans must tailor their resumes accordingly if they wish to be hired.
“It was a very difficult transition to see what skills I had in the military and see how they would apply in the civilian world,” said Baskin-Robbins Senior Vice President and Brand Officer Bill Mitchell, who served in the Army for eight years as a field artillery officer. “When I talk to veterans, they underestimate their skills in planning and their skills in training, which are very applicable to corporate America.”
Employers are searching for valuable qualities that veterans innately posses, yet are not promoting during the interview process. Leadership, coordinating missions and troop movements, planning, organizing, and commitment to the mission are all skills that a veteran should be conveying to an employer by relaying their experiences in the military. Veterans often do not promote themselves, being accustomed to advertising the group and mission above one’s self. However, while in an interview the veteran must stand out from other candidates and listing expertise gained while in the military, one of the most diverse and largest organizations in the country, can accomplish this.
For veterans there are three main paths to generating income outside of the military: opening a franchise, receive additional training or education, or direct employment. Franchises appeal to veterans because they allow the individual to be independent and accomplish goals that are dependent on work performance and determination, two qualities that are not foreign to veterans.
A nationally recognized company and iconic brand, Baskin-Robbins has taken the initiative to target veterans for unique franchise opportunities. Traditionally, Baskin-Robbins has required individuals to pay $25,000 upfront to begin a franchise. However, recognizing that this financial commitment presents a challenge and often discourages veterans from joining the Baskin-Robbins team, the company has amortized this fee over a period of 10 years. Veterans will only need to meet the company’s qualifications and initially raise $2,500 to begin their franchise. While many veterans have no experience in the food industry business, unless they had previously worked at an installation’s food facilities, Mitchell asks veterans to take another look at Baskin-Robbins.
“[Veterans] might not understand Baskin-Robbins or necessarily the food aspect…but the fact that leadership is the most common ingredient, we believe we can teach the rest,” said Mitchell. “We can teach the ice cream part; if they bring integrity, knowledge, and leadership to the table, then we will bridge those gaps for veterans today.”
In addition to Baskin-Robbins, Matco Tools is offering special franchising opportunities to the veteran community, hoping to add more veterans to their team. Matco Tools has increased their military incentive from $5,000 to $10,000 in 2012. This incentive is applied to initial start up costs, allowing the veteran an easier financial transition.
“The incentive is huge,” said Adam Blair, a Marine Corps sniper and Purple Heart recipient. “That’s not a forgiveness of franchise fees or royalties because Matco does not charge those. It is basically free products that they give you and that you can sell and turn into real dollars.”
Blair took advantage of Matco Tools’ offer and began his own franchise in 2008. In 2011, he was promoted to a field sales representative and his younger brother, Steven Blair, took over his route as a new Matco Tools franchise owner. Matco Tools trains new veteran franchise owners for two weeks, allowing the individual to tour the route with an experienced Matco Tools representative.
While numerous resources are available to veterans, the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service provided training and employment services to more than 1.5 million veterans in 2011. Committed to providing aid to transitioning service members, veterans, and their families, VETS attempts to bridge the gap between the military and civilian sectors. Through their new P3 campaign, VETS prepares service members for civilian employment, provides resources to veterans and families, and protects the legal rights of military individuals through upholding the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.
One of the tools VETS promotes among the military community is the Gold Card Initiative. This program provides post-9/11 era veterans with electronic Gold Cards that guarantee access to six months of training and counseling at all One-Stop Career Centers. Resources include career guidance, referral to employers or training programs, monthly follow-ups by a case manager, and career guidance.
“All veterans currently receive priority of access to One-Stop services,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of VETS Ismael Ortiz Jr. “But, the guarantee of service to Gold Card holders enhance their access to personalized career guidance and counseling to assist in making training and career decisions.”
VETS estimates that there are currently 205,000 post-9/11 era veterans who would immediately be eligible to participate in the Gold Card Initiative. Additionally, the DOL Employment Workshop has been redesigned to be more engaging and relevant to the service member, who is facing unique challenges when transitioning to a career in corporate America. Armed with a new curriculum, delivery methods, and student handout materials, the Employment Workshops now include information and tools to help service members translate their military skills on a resume and meet civilian licensing and credentialing requirements. With more than 4,200 Employment Workshops in 2011, DOL hopes to reach even more service members in 2012.
On a smaller scale, Veterans Green Jobs is committed to connecting veterans with employers and training programs. They host an employment program where career counselors connect veterans with employers who have jobs in the green sector. This year alone, Veterans Green Jobs has placed 209 individuals in jobs: 157 in seasonal opportunities and 52 in permanent positions. Seasonal opportunities are used as a training mechanism where veterans gain hands-on experience in outdoor conservation or wildland firefighting programs, and eventually use this training to secure a full-time position. Currently, the renewable energy market has 8.5 million U.S. jobs and it is estimated that by 2030, there will be 30 million jobs in this sector.
“I think green energy just represents another mission and another way for veterans to serve their country,” said Senior Director of Veterans Programs John Toth, an Army infantry officer with more than 21 years of experience. Veterans Green Jobs is currently partnered with five conservation corps in the west and southwest, allowing them to provide veterans with an array of opportunities.
In the past year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has encouraged corporations and employers to hire veterans and military spouses through their Hiring Our Heroes campaign. Hosting 209 job fairs, the Hiring Our Heroes program has procured commitments from small business to hire 500,000 veterans and military spouses over the next three years. Toyota is one of these companies and remains committed to helping veterans transition to the civilian workforce. By partnering with Hiring Our Heroes and Medal of Honor Recipient Sgt. Dakota Meyer, Toyota has promoted the Personal Branding Initiative to help veterans better market themselves to employers.
“The Personal Branding Initiative is an important step forward,” said Don Esmond, Senior Advisor, Toyota Motor Sales, Inc. and Marine veteran. “Toyota is honored to be partnering with Sgt. Dakota Meyer and Hiring Our Heroes and we pledge our full support to the program.”
Much like Toyota, Humana is vowing their support to provide employment and business development opportunities to veterans and their family members. Humana remains committed to hiring 1,000 veterans or military spouses by the end of 2013, and has currently hired 452 individuals in this category. Humana has also created a military centric portal where veterans can discover more about the company, learn about career opportunities at Humana, and fill out an employment application.
Caterpillar has also created a unique program tailored to veterans: the Armed Forces Support Network. Filled with veterans who have made a career at Caterpillar, new employees can choose to be mentored by another veteran, allowing them to have a smoother transition into the company from the military and understand the goals and expectations of Caterpillar. The Armed Forces Support Network also helps bridge the gap in communication between the employee, supervisor, and family when the individual is deployed with a National Guard or Reserve unit. With over 130,000 employees in more than 180 countries, Caterpillar offers a variety of career opportunities.
“Veterans are someone that you can count on to show up and do the job,” said Ryan Hubbard, President of Caterpillar’s Armed Forces Support Network and life member of Illinois AMVETS Post 234. “Just like the military has a defined set of values, Caterpillar has a set of values: integrity, excellence, teamwork, and commitment.”
AMVETS Gets Involved
Committed to helping veterans, AMVETS has recently partnered with RecruitMilitary to provide veterans, active-duty military members and their families with career opportunities through hiring events, websites, job-search platforms, and print and electronic media. AMVETS now offers a virtual career center at www.amvets.org, which includes a job search, free veteran access to the RecruitMilitary resume-writing guide, and employer and job-seeker links. Helping veterans for 15 years, RecruitMilitary has hosted 60 career fairs annually, with 440 veterans and almost 50 companies at each event. While the problem of veteran unemployment continues to exist, AMVETS continues to fight for veterans to receive opportunities in the civilian workforce.