Private Sector Tackles Veteran Joblessness

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By Katherine Peralta
From USNews.com

More than a decade after 9/11 and the two wars that followed it, U.S. military veterans of those conflicts continue to face employment challenges that are likely to persist for years. Though the economy has firmed, many veterans also still deal with the same post-crisis unemployment hangover as civilians.

One alliance to boost veteran employment is on track by the end of 2014 to beat its own goal – by five years – of hiring at least 200,000 U.S. military veterans, according to a report released Monday commissioned by RAND and JPMorgan Chase. Known as the 100,000 Jobs Mission, the coalition consists of 179 private sector companies that formed in 2011 with a mutual goal of advancing their veteran hiring practices.

Meg Harrell, the director of the Army Health Program at RAND and a co-author of the report, calls veteran unemployment in the U.S. an “unconscionable situation.”

“The military is downsizing, so now we’re going to have people that may have actually not opted to become veterans but that are going to become veterans,” Harrell says. “When people look at veteran unemployment, they tend to judge it against civilian unemployment, but veterans are a proven capability. In my mind, I never want veteran unemployment to be at civilian unemployment [levels].”

[READ: Employers Add 214,000 Jobs in October]

The unemployment rate for veterans overall is lower than that of nonveterans, however the level for post-9/11 veterans is slightly elevated, as Jason Furman, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, noted in a Nov. 7 post.

“While more must still be done to help these veterans find work, progress has been made. The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans has been cut by more than 4 percentage points from its peak,” Furman wrote.

veterans-unemployment-chart

According to the latest figures from the Labor Department, the jobless rate of veterans of all ages in October was 4.5 percent, compared with a civilian national average of 5.8 percent. But at 50.9 percent, veterans’ participation rate was also much lower than the national average of 62.8 percent.

The lower rate of participation could be a function of age and retirement. The veteran population as a whole is older than the non-veteran population, and more than half of veterans in 2013 had served in the eras of the World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War.

The figures are quite different for veterans who served from September 2001 to the present time, referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans. Their unemployment rate was 7.2 percent yet had a higher rate of participation in the labor force – 78.7 percent – than the national average.

Harrell cautions against reading too far into the Labor Department’s figures, however, since their data are drawn from “relatively small” sample sizes.

The 100,000 Jobs Mission report shows the private sector companies involved hired 190,046 veterans through the end of the third quarter this year. When the coalition was formed three years ago, its original mission was to take on 100,000 veterans by 2020, a goal that was since revised as more companies joined. Hiring has been broad-based across industries ranging from finance to health care to real estate in firms of all sizes.

The report found the firms focused heavily on recruitment – through efforts like job fairs – but less on retention once a veteran is hired. Consequently, the authors recommend more focus on career development and retention for participating businesses.

[ALSO: Baby Boomers Are a Big Part of Labor Participation Rate Decline]

Mark Lunenburg, a former Army captain who was deployed in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, is now a business process manager at JPMorgan, a position he’s held for a year and a half. He says not having the support network the military provided during his time of service was one of the biggest challenges of transitioning into civilian work life.

“In the military you have an immediate support net whenever you do a transition from post to post or role to role that you can fall back on. Transitioning to civilian life, that really doesn’t exist nearly to the extent it does in the military,” Luneberg says. “But having come here [JPMorgan Chase], I’ve become involved with the business resource group VETS, which is Voices for Employees That Served. That’s kind of filled some of that gap that wasn’t there within the regular civilian transition.”

The challenge of hiring veterans is two sided, says Lida Citroën, who heads a personal branding and marketing consulting firm and who teaches a workforce transition course at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. For one, the military’s job is to train service members for combat, not how to be citizens and work in a corporate culture. On the other side are hiring managers who don’t necessarily understand the values of the military or know how to read a military resume.

Without the proper employment resources in place, returning U.S. military veterans face joblessness, homelessness, alcoholism and drug abuse, Citroën says.

“Anytime you take a community that has volunteered to serve something as big and as bold and scary and important as what they did … you take somebody at that level of commitment and bring them back into a society that maybe doesn’t understand them or doesn’t value them, that has to be emotionally devastating,” Citroën says. “If they don’t have access to the resources, if they don’t feel connected to a community … it would be natural that somebody could get lost.”

But their characteristics as employees outweigh perceived risks from an employer, such as misunderstanding about post-traumatic stress syndrome, Citroën says: They’re considered creative, highly trainable, disciplined and often very strong leaders.

“The first five minutes of a mission, you’re executing on strategy. Then, you’re adapting and improvising. So they can be very creative, incredible problem solvers and that’s an interesting aspect to bring to a company that might need sort of a boost of enthusiasm and innovation,” Citroën says.

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