I’m confident I stand with most Americans when it comes to hoping our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq come home soon. But their return also worries me.
There are about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and despite the end of war in Iraq, more than 50,000 soldiers still occupy that country. If they all came back today we’d have an employment crisis on our hands. Today there are more than 200,000 veterans who recently returned and can’t find work, according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics; and the jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans’ is 10 percent, compared to 9.8 percent among the civilian population. Among young male veterans it’s even higher:
For many young returning vets, the military was the first real job they had so it makes sense that it would be harder for them to find work. And many older vets who thought their jobs would be waiting for them when they returned were hit with a harsh reality — a pink slip.
“I think that there is the potential for some upside in 2011 hiring, but overall the trend remains very poor for veterans when directly compared with their civilian counterparts,” said Chad Storlie, author of “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader: 20 Lessons to Advance Your Civilian Career.”
No matter which side you’re on in the political debate over the war, there’s no denying that a regular paycheck and a fulfilling job will help our soldiers make a smoother reentry into civilian life. That said, there are high hurdles they face when it comes to finding a job, everything from discrimination from prospective employers to not being able to drop the “Yes-Sir” mentalities once they take off their uniforms. And vets have to find the right place and right job for them.
Some of the best places to find work, Storlie said, are:
(1) Washington, Maryland, and Virginia
(5) South and North Dakota, Nebraska
And, he added, “I think that the industries are where veterans can translate their time well such as the Veteran Green Job program in Denver, CO; Emergency Management Services (Police, Fire, EMT, Disaster, etc); Defense Companies and Government Positions requiring security clearances, and Customer Service/Call Center where leadership and planning are important. Additionally, now is a great time to use GI Bill for graduate and undergraduate education since, with the high unemployment rate, opportunity cost is so low.”
“I still think that veterans need to actively plan for a 8-12 month job search with lots of networking and skills translation to find an effective and satisfying career,” he noted.
Storlie offered these specific tips:
1. Leverage Your Military Experience to Your Company and Job. Veterans need to translate their military skills to their businesses and organizations in a fashion that supports the culture and work practices of their company. The book, Combat Leader to Corporate Leader: 20 Lessons to Advance Your Civilian Career, gives veterans 20 ways to immediately leverage their military skills for an employer in a format that the employer needs.
2. Websites to Stay Up to Date – Quick and Easy on Business News. Just like reading the morning and evening intelligence reports, staying current on today’s important news is a must. Websites such as the New York Times, Business Week, Fortune, Washington Post, Google News Custom Alerts, SmartBrief, Harvard Business Review Blogs, and the Corporate Advisory Board all have daily e-mail’s that deliver the cutting edge business news to your e-mail for free. Scheduled e-mail news is the easiest and most efficient way to stay up to date.
3. Build a Network – Using Letters. Networking is clearly one of the best ways to get a job and advance your career. A military veteran should seek to contact other mid level leaders in an industry (industries) that they would like to work to learn more about the industry, what it takes to succeed, and to position them for advancement. When networking, letters are a wonderful resource to contact specific people in companies, because people receive very little “snail” mail anymore. Create your own personal direct mail campaign to build your network and learn how others succeeded in their career.
4. Teach A Class. Teaching in the military was something everyone did as a part of training no matter your service, rank, and specialty. Teaching is a great way to build confidence, position yourself as an expert, and improve your presentation skills. Volunteer with a charity, education, business, or government organization to teach a class or series of classes to show how military skill sets can be translated for business.
5. Further Your Education. Community colleges offer good overview business classes to improve your baseline knowledge of business in such vital areas as Accounting, Finance, Statistics, or Applied Mathematics. If possible, take them in person because fellow students, professors, and college staff are great resources for networking.
6. Mentor an Individual or Group. Mentoring or coaching is a fantastic skill to help build talent, commitment, and initiative in an organization. In the military, performance counseling sessions was a way to identify the standard of the organization, how a soldier performed to that standard, and what step (s) would be taken to improve the soldier’s performance. This mentoring is invaluable in organizations to help new employees or employees with high potential develop. Ken Hicks, an Army veteran and the CEO of Foot Locker, stated, “So I learned that you’re very dependent on your people to be their best. You train and develop and motivate them.”
7. “A Desk Is A Dangerous Place From Which To View The World,” – John le Carre. In the military, inspections, field visits, and “walking the line” were an implicit responsibility for leaders at all levels. In business, conducting field visits with customers, manufacturing locations, and the like can make a huge difference in your career, allow you to understand the business, and establish a special relationship with your customers. If you do not know what to do, get out and look at the problem from your customer’s perspective.
8. Start a Veteran’s Network in Your Organization. From small companies to large companies, military veteran employees are starting military veteran Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) in their companies. Military Veteran ERG’s serve a variety of roles to help companies employ more veterans, keep veterans on as employees, serve as a resource base for deployed employees, and help veterans translate military skills into improving the company’s business. No matter your organization’s size, a military veteran ERG is a great idea.
9. Ensure a Professional Appearance. John Meyer, an Air Force Veteran and the CEO or Acxiom, stated in a Harvard Business Review Blog post, “I think professionalism and professional appearance is pretty important because it gives you the first impression, the benefit of the doubt. If you look the part, you get the opportunity to show whether you’re competent or not.” The new year is a great time to refresh your wardrobe and ensure you look the part. Remember, as a general rule, dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
10. Attend A Professional Convention, Speech By An Expert, Or Talk At A Local University. Staying abreast of the competition and cutting edge trends in your industry is vital. Ken Hicks, a US Army veteran and the CEO of Foot Locker, stated, “When I was in the Army I was in a cavalry regiment, and one of the cavalry’s jobs is to go out and scout. I send people out to our competitors’ stores all the time. We look at the competition, the press, any venue we can think of where we will see new ideas and new things.” Conventions are great ways to network, meet experts, see the competition, and understand how to succeed.
I recently received a study titled, “Self-Inflicted Deaths Among Women With U.S. Military Service: A Hidden Epidemic?”, that showed female veterans were more likely to commit suicide. “This study shows that young women veterans have nearly triple the suicide rate of young women who never served in the military,” said Mark Kaplan, co-author of the study and professor of Community Health at Portland State University. “The elevated rates of suicide among women veterans should be a call-to-action, especially for clinicians and caregivers to be aware of warning signs and helpful prevention resources such as the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline [1-800-273-TALK (8255) press “1″].”
And suicide rates among Gulf Era War vets is up overall. “The military suicide rate doubled between 2001 and 2006 while it remained relatively flat among civilians,” said Coleman Nee, undersecretary for the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services.
While many factors contribute to such desperate acts among vets, including psychological trauma and injuries, economic hardships, including joblessness, are often overlooked. Licensed social worker Heidi Donnellan said in an article in Veterans Today that job loss could trigger depression especially in men who might feel that they couldn’t fulfill traditional roles.
Hopefully realizing the challenges and asking for help will make things better for all you vets out there fighting an uphill battle in this crummy job market. But all of us have to also do our part encouraging, supporting and hiring vets where ever we can.