Finding jobs is a big challenge for everyone in a stagnant economy, but it’s an even bigger hurdle for veterans. When they return home, war-weary veterans find themselves battling for jobs in a near-jobless market and applying to organizations that show little understanding of or interest in what they bring to the table by way of skills, experience and potential.
While the national unemployment rate has been hovering somewhere around 8 or 9 percent, it has been much higher for the cohort leaving active duty in the military. Pentagon data shows more than 1.6 million military personnel have been deployed to the Middle East and Afghanistan since late 2001. But when they returned home, those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq faced a jobless rate of 12.1 percent in 2011, significantly higher than the national average of 8.7 percent for the overall population and up from 11.5 percent the year before.
For those ages 22 to 24, the situation was even more daunting. The unemployment rate was as high as three times that of non-veterans in the same age group, according to Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Matt Caulfield. Young males in the 18 to 24 age group faced huge obstacles, with more than three in every 10 struggling to find work. Though reports in early 2012 showed a drop in unemployment for veterans to just under the national average, it was attributed to fewer guardsmen and reservists returning from the Persian Gulf and flooding the job market — not necessarily a sustainable downward trend.
In fact, such a trend seems unlikely to develop in the near future. With the war in Afghanistan winding down, the government forecasts more than 1 million military service members will leave active duty and return to their communities during the next five years. They will be looking for meaningful work, but a lot of organizations may not be looking for them. Many companies simply don’t understand how military experience translates to high performance in the corporate world.
Ironically, veterans are exactly the kind of people every enterprise needs — a sustainable talent pool of eager knowledge workers who come to their jobs with the combat leadership, military discipline, teamwork mentality and relevant international technology experience to address human capital shortfalls and enhance any organization’s productivity. Veterans enter the workforce with identifiable and transferable skills that have been proven in real-world situations, and they can learn and apply new skills and concepts quickly under tight schedules and with limited resources.
Beyond the fact that veterans possess many of the attributes that make them ideal candidates for development, they represent a distinct economic advantage to employers looking to magnify the impact of workforce development efforts on their organizations.
Employers who hire veterans also may be eligible for thousands of dollars in federal and state tax credits. The Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011 includes a new tax credit worth up to $5,600 for employers that hire unemployed veterans. It doubles the credit for employers that hire disabled veterans out of work at least six months, moving it to $9,600.
Employers also can maximize and supplement learning investment by encouraging veterans in their workforce to use government education benefits to take their careers to the next level. The Post 9/11 GI Bill pays eligible individuals full tuition and fees for all public school in-state students and up to $18,000 for those attending private or foreign schools in the 2012 academic year. Approved training includes graduate and undergraduate degrees, vocational/technical training, on-the-job training, flight training, correspondence training, and licensing and national testing programs.
Today’s learning leaders must fully understand the ramifications, responsibilities and advantages of recruiting, hiring and developing veterans as a deliberate and strategic part of their organizations’ talent strategies. And they need to be able to articulate that priority to all stakeholders — both to create value and improve organizational performance and as a patriotic and economic national imperative.
As we celebrate Veterans Day this month, let’s remember the words of President Barack Obama, “Veterans have served and sacrificed in defense of our nation. When they complete their service, we must do everything in our power to assist them in re-entering civilian life and finding employment.”
Editor in Chief