Most people are certainly aware that the job market of the last several years has been brutal for millions of Americans. What most people probably are not aware of, however, is that it has been especially brutal for our military veterans, particularly our younger veterans. Unemployment among this group of young men and women is significantly higher than is the case with the American worker population in general.*
In order to begin turning around this shameful situation in the 2012 job market, strong, effective measures and programs will need to be implemented by both public and private sectors, and there is at least some good news from both of these sectors as we enter the new year.
Shortly after Veterans Day last year, President Obama signed into law a new, bi-partisan veterans employment bill designed to help unemployed veterans find jobs and recently separated military members make a successful transition to civilian life. The new law promises significant assistance to unemployed veterans, but against the current backdrop of political squabbling and near paralysis in the nation’s capital, only time of course will tell just how effective the new law actually will be in helping struggling veterans.
In the private sector, at least some employers, especially those in small businesses, have been doing, and continue to do, what they can to help veterans find rewarding, meaningful jobs in today’s challenging job market. But lacking a unified, centralized clearinghouse for both the veterans and prospective employers, unfortunately, their efforts have been more or less a “hit and miss” proposition at best. Enter www.veterancentral.com.
VeteranCentral.com is a veteran-oriented website conceived, designed and just recently published for public beta testing by a young entrepreneur named Jonathon Lunardi. (The site is scheduled to be fully operational nationwide this month.) Jonathon is headquartered in the nation’s capital and for the last few years has been working closely key members of Congress and of various U.S. Armed Services Congressional Committees and the Department of Veterans Affairs (at both the national and state levels) to create and develop a website that will, in addition to addressing a wide array of veteran issues, serve as a unified, centralized clearinghouse for veteran job seekers (and their families and other supporters) and potential employers.
About six months ago, as the site was in its final development stages, Jonathon contacted me and asked if I would be interested in becoming a regular contributor to VeteranCentral. Since my editor, Michael Garee, and I are both veterans ourselves, and particularly interested in helping other veterans in any way we can, I readily agreed. I am proud and honored to be a part of this new, dynamic effort to help veterans find jobs. (Click here to read the blog I posted for the inaugural edition of the site.)
Unique employment challenges our veterans face
Why do veterans, particularly younger veterans, face such tremendous challenges in the current job market? While there are no pat, easy answers to this key question, I can provide you some valuable insights. Consider these facts, for example (Source: BLS):
- The majority of veterans are men and current unemployment is worse for men (9.5% in October 2011) than for women (8.5% in October 2011).
- Many younger, enlisted veterans joined the military right out of high school and therefore these young men and women are “punished” (as, coincidentally, is also the case with their non-veteran cohorts) because they may have less education than others vying for the same jobs as they.
- Many veterans come from and then return to areas of the country that have been hit the hardest economically, e.g., rural and rust-belt areas that are still struggling.
- Those who have been out of work the longest during the recent economic downturn typically have the most difficulty finding a new job in today’s job market. Fair or not, and believe it or not, some employers today are viewing eight years in the military as being the same as being without private-sector skills and experience for eight years!
As if these challenges weren’t tough enough, current hiring is strongest—and is expected to stay the strongest, at least for the immediate future—in jobs that require specialized education and training. Hiring is weakest in the blue collar job segment, where large numbers of these younger, less-educated, enlisted veterans are most likely to seek employment.
So, what is the answer to the employment dilemma currently being faced by our veterans, and again, particularly our younger veterans? Should we merely throw up our hands in defeat and wait for everything to eventually get better? Hardly.
Because fewer than 10% of American adults have ever served or are currently serving in the U. S. Armed Forces, there is a significant “disconnect”—on both sides of the fence—when it comes to aligning skills and experience gained in the military with those traditionally found in the civilian job sector. That is, many times, neither the veteran himself/herself nor the potential employer is able to effectively and meaningfully translate skills and experience gained in military service into comparable civilian skills and experience. In today’s extremely competitive job market, veterans should realize therefore that it is going to largely be up to them to make this “translation” for potential employers, i.e., to properly brand themselves in order to effectively compete in today’s job market against their non-veteran competitors.
Veterans have much to offer potential employers
When compared to their non-veteran counterparts, veterans typically have significantly different and quite unique skills and experiences to offer potential employers. Consider just a few of these unique differences between veterans and non-veterans:
Leadership skills. How many non-veteran young people in their early- to mid-20s have had the experience of leading groups of men and women numbering from ten to well over 100, and being totally responsible for the training, motivation and job performance of these people? Military veterans routinely exercise such responsibility and leadership skills. And that includes junior non-commissioned officers, i.e., corporals/specialists/petty officers and junior sergeants, as well as junior commissioned officers, i.e., second and first lieutenants.
Extremely high morale and genuine, strong commitment to getting the job done right, the first time. To be sure, many young non-veterans in the workforce exhibit a high level of morale and a genuine commitment to getting the job done. The fact of the matter is, however, most cannot measure up to their veteran counterparts when it comes to these characteristics. Why? Well, it’s not because veterans are ipso facto just more dedicated people. Rather, it is because veterans have developed—and practiced!—these characteristics where they really count! Low morale and weak commitment to a civilian job can mean loss of that job; low morale and weak commitment in a military job can mean loss of life! Big, significant difference!
Highly specialized skills and training. Contrary to the somewhat popular belief, today’s military is not your “granddad’s” military. Virtually all of the equipment and systems used by the military today require extensive, exhaustive and comprehensive training to function properly. Also contrary to the somewhat popular belief, the overwhelming number of men and women in the armed forces are not “grunts.” In fact, fewer than 10% of men and women in the armed forces are ever actually engaged in real combat operations! The remaining 90% traditionally serve in support positions, which cover a wide range of operations and disciplines, e.g., logistics, administration, computer technology, technical support, engineering, etc.—all disciplines that certainly have equivalent jobs in the civilian job market.
Sharply honed “problem-solving” skills, experience. Most employers today want to hire people who can help them solve their problems, or prevent problems from occurring in the first place. Very few prospective employees bring more to the table in this area than veterans. They are used to routinely handling—and solving, sometimes “on the fly”!—problems that are bound to crop up in any operation or business.
If you are a veteran seeking a new job, then your next move should be obvious. You need to begin branding yourself as possessing unique and different characteristics such as those I just mentioned above. In every communication to and contact with prospective employers. Or, if you are in a position to provide a new job for a veteran, then perhaps it is time you took another, new look at precisely how much veterans have to offer you and your company. A good place for both the veteran and the prospective employer to begin this journey of discovery is VeteranCentral.com.
*While unemployment among the general workforce hovered around nine percent for most of last year, unemployment among veterans stubbornly persisted near 12 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, while the latest unemployment data suggest that the job market is slowly improving for most Americans, it actually appears to be moving in the opposite direction for some groups of veterans. For example, the youngest of our veterans, aged 18 to 24, had a 30.4 percent jobless rate in October 2011, up considerably from the previous year, when the jobless rate stood at a still staggering rate of 18.4 percent. In contrast, non-veterans in this same age group stood at 15.3 percent. Add in the demographic factors of race and gender and the overall unemployment rate among veterans becomes even more sobering, and considerably more disturbing.
Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.