Smart Business Plan: Hire a Vet

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I know — from personal experience — that folks out there who do the hiring for their companies have no idea what the experience and work ethics are of military veterans.

Although I retired 12 years ago and opted to go to graduate school instead of looking for work right away, I too have faced a brick wall when it came to finding a job after I completed my higher education.

I have a Ph.D. in military sociology, with emphasis on gender issues, yet I have not been able to get an academic job that did not specifically state it has something to do with the military. I am currently in “forced” retirement, blogging on Battleland, volunteering my time with women veterans and other organizations, and teaching part time on line in a Military Studies program for Columbia College of Missouri.

Too young yet for Social Security benefits, I am lucky that I saved money for retirement while I was working, and that I have a fairly generous military retirement from the Navy. I have chosen to drop out of the work force because I can…but that’s not true for the troops leaving the military post 9/11.

The unemployment rate for Gulf War Era II male veterans under age 24 was 29.1% in 2011, compared to 17.6% for non-veterans in the same age group. The rate for male veterans age 25 to 34 also was higher than the rate for their non-veteran counterparts (13.4 and 9.5%, respectively).

For women, the stats are even worse: for female veterans under age 24, the unemployment rate was 36.1% as compared to 14.4% for non-veteran females of the same age. But the numbers improve with age: those 25 to 34 had jobless rates of 10.6% and 9.1%, respectively. But it could also be true that some women became so disillusioned — as I did — that they stopped seeking work, and thus are no longer “unemployed.” Along those same lines, homeless female vets are a growing concern of the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is the public’s misconception of the changes in moving from a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine into the civilian workforce. They may think that this transition negatively affects the individual outcome. Perhaps those that don’t know the day to day job requirements (and life-style) of military personnel perceive them as rigid, capable of taking orders but not able to think independently, followers but not leaders, and very conservative. Perspective employers may also fear the repercussions of Post-Traumatic Stress, or perceive all vets as war-mongering villains, easily able to kill without conscience.

However, the reality is that military veterans are as different from each other as they are the same.

We are not stereotypically rigid, conservative, or unable to think for ourselves. On the contrary, the military provides not only job training, much of which is directly applicable to the civilian workplace, but it also instills a sense of confidence, patriotism, a “can do” work ethic, and the military also develops leadership from day one, even if it is only supervising one person at a time.

As an individual rises in rank, so does his or her responsibility to others and the unit, including increased supervisory roles, as well as the encouragement to innovate as needed to get the job done. This goes from the most junior enlisted person to the most senior ranking officer. The military’s training programs are the equivalent of college courses. In fact, there is a system for veterans to translate such training into college credits.

Yet, unemployment for young veterans is unequally high. Sure, there are many programs for vets to get additional job training, resume-writing workshops, veterans’ job fairs. But the bottom line is America is not hiring.

Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the veteran affairs committee, has a five-step plan to get more veterans hired by the private sector. But while educating human-resource professionals about the benefits a veteran can bring to their workplace is a start (as are her other steps), the key problem remains the fear of the unknown.

In a country where only 1% of the population serves in the military, the other 99% only has what he or she reads in papers or magazines, sees in the news or online, or hears on the radio, to mold their opinion. It would help to enlist our powerful national media in this quest. A media plan developed by the Department of Veteran Affairs, by Congress, or by the Department of Defense could go far to help instruct the public on what being a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine means, and — most importantly — why hiring veterans could be the best thing, not only for the individual and the company, but for America’s future.