Help Alaska veterans pursue meaningful careers


August 17, 2016
By Eric Eversole
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner community perspective:

National headlines on veteran unemployment were grim in 2011. “Unemployment crisis among veterans spurs call to action in Congress,” read one. “Unemployment for Young Vets: 30%, and Rising,” warned another. In the midst of two wars, America’s veterans were in trouble at home.

Today, veteran unemployment rates flirt with record lows, barely breaking 4 percent in Alaska. Even the youngest post-9/11 veterans no longer face large gaps separating them from civilian counterparts.

Yet despite the significant, sustained decline in the veteran unemployment rate, Alaska’s veterans, transitioning image of veterans paradeservice members and military spouses still face numerous challenges. Given the geographic challenges complicating any job search in Alaska, demand for job fairs, employment workshops and other training opportunities remain high, especially in the Fairbanks area, home to 5,000 soldiers at Fort Wainwright and 11,000 veterans living in the surrounding county.

The unemployment rate alone has never captured the importance of providing employment support and resources for Alaska’s veterans. It doesn’t capture the aspirational interests of the 250,000 service members annually transitioning out of the military who are searching for jobs across the nation. It doesn’t capture the men and women with years of training in medicine, logistics, information systems and other essential fields who are unemployed or underemployed, while Alaska businesses search for skilled workers. And it certainly doesn’t capture the desire that many share to transfer to a new, more rewarding job.

The declining unemployment rate has also shone a clearer spotlight on communities that face additional challenges to gaining employment, such as military spouses, who must cope with unique challenges supporting their service members’ careers and work around constant moves, face enduring unemployment rates of 20-30 percent and underemployment rates as high as 90 percent.

Wounded warriors with significant disabilities continue to face an unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent, both overall and within the post-9/11 generation.

A huge population of “hidden heroes” — the estimated 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers who help support wounded warriors — has unique job needs that require targeted support and education of employers.

And with record numbers of veterans using their GI Bill benefits and delaying their entry into the workforce, there is an ongoing need to be ready to help student veterans scattered at institutions across the country find jobs upon graduation.

The job search is never simple or easy. Some veterans are not sure of who they are — or who they can be — outside of the uniform. A former infantryman may not understand the full breadth of options available upon entering the civilian world.

A survey on the success of veterans in their first job after the military, conducted by the Institute for Veterans and Military Affairs at Syracuse University (IVMF), found that the number one cause of the high attrition rate of these men and women is that they simply did not understand what it meant to work in that particular field. They were not informed consumers when they chose jobs.

To support the employment prospects of Fairbanks’ veterans and transitioning service members, Hiring Our Heroes is hosting a major two-day transition summit at Fort Wainwright on August 17-18, open to area veterans, transitioning service members and spouses. This is HOH’s second Alaska summit, following on the heels of a 2015 event at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson that attracted 400 local job seekers.

The best advice I can give to a transitioning service member, veteran or spouse looking for an opportunity in the region is to prepare for the search like you would prepare for any mission. Identify the objective, and develop a strategic plan to achieve it. Do your reconnaissance and gather all pertinent information on your target industries, companies and jobs. Prepare your resume and your power speech or elevator pitch. Find mentors who understand your experience and can help you through the process. When all of your information, resources and experts are in order, you move to execute. Execute, execute, execute.

Many of the 46,000 veterans actively participating in Alaska’s workforce are still on a journey to learn new employment skills and meet employers who want to hire them because of — not in spite of — their service, skills and training. Like every new or tough situation they dealt with in the military, veterans will rise to this occasion— but they don’t have to do it alone.
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