Fighting Veteran Unemployment by Closing the Skills Gap

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December 1, 2014
By Steve Cooker
From HuffingtonPost.com

There are 21.4 million veterans in the United States, and the challenges they face have been well-documented — from access to health services to unemployment. We’re seeing some positive signs on the employment front, as veterans overall reported a 4.7 percent unemployment rate in September 2014, compared to 5.7 percent for the general population; however, the rate of unemployment for post-9/11 veterans continues to hover at 6.2 percent. So where are we falling short and what can we do to better support this largest and fastest-growing segment of veterans?

The devil, as usual, seems to be in the details. According to the most recent National Veterans Talent Index (VTI) Study conducted by Monster and Military.com, one of the greatest challenges veterans continue to face is effectively communicating to employers how the skills and experience gained during their military service translate in the civilian workforce. Currently, less than half of veterans report that they are able to effectively translate their military skills into a non-military setting. This is despite the fact that more than two-thirds of employers report having special talent needs that a veteran candidate would be more qualified to fill than a non-veteran candidate. So employers recognize the unique skills that veterans possess, but this inability to “translate” capabilities into actual real-world positions is preventing job placements that would benefit both companies and veterans.

For some professions, the translation is a bit more apples to apples. For example, notwithstanding the required credentialing, a medic in the Navy can align his or her medical qualifications and experience into the private healthcare industry, while an Army truck driver can participate in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s program to obtain their commercial driver’s license. Additionally, a cybersecurity specialist trained in network protection brings skills that are more easily understood by IT security teams in the private sector. What has proven far more difficult, however, is translating the leadership skills and training that service members bring to the table. For example, a Sergeant in the Air Force possesses leadership experience that is rare for professionals of a similar age, in addition to management, training, budgeting, technology and strategic thinking capabilities. Those skills may not jump off the resume page to civilian recruiters if they simply read a candidate’s military job description as “sergeant.” It is this kind of awareness gap that causes misunderstandings and is slowing the hiring of veterans into our nation’s civilian workforce.

To fix this issue the problem must be tackled from both sides. Employers need resources and tools to better match their job requirements with the skills and competencies in a veteran’s resume, and veteran job seekers need tools to identify good-fit positions for their skills, experience and interests, and help more effectively communicating their qualifications and military-developed strengths to civilian recruiters and hiring managers. This needs to happen online, as well as offline. The good news is that there are a variety of emerging resources that are helping to bridge these gaps, from veteran-specific regional job boards to sophisticated “skills translators” based on powerful analytics and matching technologies. There are also programs to empower recruiters and give them access to highly-skilled veteran talent, including USTechVets.org, Northern Virginia Technology Council’s Veteran Employment Initiative, Clear Channel Radio’s ShowYourStripes.org and JP Morgan Chase’s 100,000 Jobs Mission, all of which are helping to ensure our veterans efficiently obtain meaningful employment.

Providing insight and tools to both employers and veterans can help to re-shape the way they think about military skills and help them to better understand all of the qualifications a transitioning service member/veteran processes.

As our nation’s veterans provide an invaluable service to our country and its citizens, it is imperative that we do better to serve them. By continuing to work toward not only decreasing the post-9/11 veteran unemployment rate, but ensuring transitioning military service members have access to quality employment opportunities, we can give back to those who have given our country so much.

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