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Vets See Big Employment Gains

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

A slow-growing economy continues to be good for veterans, who experienced an overall unemployment rate of 4.3 percent in September. The rate was slightly higher—4.4 percent—for post-9/11 veterans, who include those of the Iraq and Afghanistan generations.

Veterans are doing better than shown by the overall 5 percent national unemployment rate, and doing very well considering that most of the 156,000 jobs created in September were in the professional, businesses services and health service areas that can be tough for recently separated soldiers to enter.

In fact, the trend lines on veterans’ unemployment have been on a steady positive track over the past five years. At the end of 2011, the jobless rate for post-9/11 vets sat at 13.1 percent, almost five points above the overall civilian rate of 8.3 percent.

There are a number of good reasons why the private sector is recognizing that hiring veterans is good for business, said retired Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, director of NCO and Soldier Programs for the Association of the U.S. Army.

It starts with the basic fact that the Army builds leaders, he said: “Throughout your military career, whether you serve four or five years or 40 years, you always find yourself pulled to positions of increasing responsibility.”

“You’re also a team player … you not only understand shared responsibilities and the need to work together, you also become very good at diversity in the sense of gender, ethnicity, backgrounds and cultures,” Preston said. “It’s also about building the team. You become good at delegating, putting people in charge of different aspects of a job to be able to complete the mission.”

All these attributes can be more valuable than actual job skills, and are “very much needed and wanted” by private-sector employers, he said.

But Preston noted that the comparatively rapid decline in veterans’ unemployment has been driven in no small measure by military and government efforts to emphasize these attributes to private-sector employers.

The Army, for example, established the Soldier for Life program, at https://soldierforlife.army.mil. The website has a beefy employment section featuring a job search database, listings for hiring fairs and career mentorship programs, a career toolkit, resources for employers and much more. The site seeks to make it as easy as possible for private-sector employers to reach former soldiers, including a “roadmap” with everything they need to know to find, hire and empower veterans in their workforces.

Soldier for Life “has been huge,” Preston said. It provided a means to connect veterans and private-sector employers in new and mutually beneficial ways.

He called the program a “very powerful” conduit for “getting the right message out there to showcase who our young people are as they leave the military, and what they can bring to the workforce.”

On a broader scale, the government launched two major outreach efforts in 2011, the White House’s Joining Forces initiative and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative, both of which have raised awareness among private-sector employers about what veterans can do for them.

The private sector has responded. At Raytheon Co., a member of Joining Forces, about 20 percent of all hires in 2015 were veterans, said Wally Massenburg, the company’s senior director of Integrated Air and Missile Defense Sustainment.

“What you get with a veteran coming out of service … is an intangible that is hard to find in industry: someone who, at whatever level they served, has led people,” said Massenburg, who is president of Raytheon’s veterans enterprise employee resource group.

More importantly, he said, “in leading people, you gain a tendency to take care of people and build team spirit and camaraderie—the kind of things that I don’t believe happen naturally in industry or corporations.”

Other pluses for veterans: They are adept at “crisis management, the ability to work under pressure without overreacting emotionally … so they bring a calmness to any organization,” and they usually have experience with and understanding of other cultures—a bonus for large companies with an international presence.

“And there’s nothing like getting the work done on time,” Massenburg said with a laugh. “People coming out of the military have been taught how to manage time.”