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A Different Kind of Battle

As the nation honors its veterans' service, a new survey reveals that many of them -- especially new ones -- are feeling frustrated and uncertain about their job prospects in the civilian world.

Friday, November 11, 2011
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Given the two wars and numerous other military engagements that have taken place since 9/11, it's fair to say that those who've served in the military during the past 10 years have experienced their fair share of challenges.

However, a different challenge awaits them once their military service ends: translating the skills they learned in the service to a decent job in today's economy. Judging from a recent study by Monster (conducted as part of its new Veteran Talent Index report, which will appear bi-annually), many veterans are feeling a bit pessimistic about their prospects.

"With veterans, you'll often have a person who went straight into the military out of high school who's never had to search for a job in the civilian world," says T. McCreary, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and president of Military.com, a subsidiary of Maynard, Mass.-based Monster that serves as an online community for veterans and active-duty personnel. "In the civilian world, they're faced with a completely different culture than the one they're used to."

Monster and Military.com recently surveyed approximately 800 veterans and found 61 percent said they feel challenged in finding a job that matches what they want in terms of salary and location, while nearly half (47 percent) feel challenged in getting employers to understand their skills and experience, and 45 percent feel frustrated in applying their military skills in non-military settings.

This frustration is having real consequences: Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the unemployment rate for "Gulf War II veterans" (those who've served on active duty between September 2001 and the present) is significantly higher than for the general population -- at the beginning of this year, it exceeded 15 percent, and in September stood at nearly 12 percent, compared to the overall unemployment rate of 9 percent.

Ironically, a Monster survey of 500 employers conducted in October revealed that veterans and their job skills are -- despite their own concerns regarding their ability to find suitable employment -- highly sought by companies. Nearly 70 percent of the respondents that have hired more than one veteran within the past year say vets perform their job functions "much better" than non-veterans and nearly all (98 percent) say they would hire a veteran again.

"Vets bring a sense of pride and loyalty, which are qualities that can be hard to find today," says Brian Collins, chief HR officer at CCA, a Nashville-based correctional-services firm that's been named to G.I. Jobs magazine's list of "Top 100 Military-Friendly Employers" for the last five years in a row. "That's often something you have to try and create within a workforce, but vets already have that."

Collins says his company partners with local veterans' organizations and with ACAP Centers -- career-transition centers managed by the Army to help soldiers find new occupations in the civilian world -- to ensure vets know about its job openings.

In many cases, people transitioning from active duty to civilian life can have a tough time matching what they did in the military to an equivalent job in the outside world, says Julian Grant, deputy director for employment and training at the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center, a nonprofit organization that helps vets find new careers.

"If you served as an infantryman, that's obviously not transferable to civilian life, and you kind of have to start from scratch to find a new career," he says. "It's harder than in the old days, when places like the Philadelphia Navy Yard would hire huge numbers of vets as soon as they left the service. Many of those places are gone now, and nothing's taken their place."

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However, vets shouldn't sell their military experiences short, regardless of their specific occupation, says McCreary. "People in the military have a vast array of hard and soft skills that may not always be apparent even to them," he says. "In the military, you'll find 22-year-old guys who've had experience supervising eight or 10 people -- that's much harder to find among civilian applicants." 

Military.com and Minneapolis-based Jobs2Web have both launched new services designed to make it easier for vets to translate their military skills to jobs. At Military.com, veterans can type a description of their military job into its "Military Skills Translator," which will then match it with jobs in Monster's database, says McCreary. A similar tool from Jobs2Web called Jobs2Vets lets veterans input their "military occupational code" to find a match among the 150,000 jobs in Jobs2Web's database.

Job-search tools aside, HR leaders and recruiters can also help vets clarify the value of their experience, says McCreary.

 

"I tell HR people, 'Don't just ask a military person about their primary skills -- ask them about what they did on a typical day in the service,' " he says. "That's when you'll discover the richness of what vets have to offer. Most of them have done a wide array of things; in many cases, under pretty stressful conditions.

"Another thing to remember -- military people will often say 'we' instead of 'I,' " he adds. "That leads some civilians to say, 'Well, he must not have done a lot himself.' But in the military, we use 'we' when talking about team accomplishments, even if we actually led the team."

If you would like to watch the Sept. 28 webinar with Emily King, author of Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing and Retaining Veterans, offering tips on finding and retaining military veterans, click here.

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