We must do more to position veterans for career success

According to the Pentagon, vets under 26 years old have an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent. More than 700,000 vets are still unemployed, and approximately one million service members will return home in five years.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently launched an initiative called Hiring Our Heroes, which aims to hire 500,000 veterans by the end of 2014. While extremely beneficial, the program’s tactics still fall short of what veterans really need: the mentorship and emotional guidance to make a successful transition.

It can be tough for a veteran to stand out at a job fair like the ones provided by Hiring Our Heroes. There are hundreds vying for the same positions, all with similar experience on their resumes. Veterans in transition get a limited benefit from these fairs, as they’re generally limited to one geographical area. Resume writing and personal branding workshops can help, but they don’t offer a personal network that can be leveraged after training.

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Let’s face it, veterans are at a disadvantage no matter how many fairs they attend. If a veteran does one tour, their peers are working hourly jobs after high school or are still in college. While college students spend four years making professional connections, veterans are overseas without connections to a professional community. Building that community from the ground up is the key for battling veteran unemployment.

It’s the military’s job to make a civilian a soldier, but it’s the community’s job to help the soldier transition back to civilian life. Increasingly, receiving communities aren’t participating. Current programs offer a “push” mentality -- the canned educational programs are standardized nationally and are required by a multi-year contract inflexible in content or delivery. A course taught in Texas might be spot-on for the Texas economy, but what of attendees going to Miami, Seattle or New York?

We need a “pull” mentality to draw veterans into the workforce -- and that starts with connecting them with other veterans who have successfully found jobs and are willing to mentor. That’s why my nonprofit partnered launched the 1kVets program, offering a proactive way for veterans to jump into the job search by connecting them with others who have already made the transition successfully.

Using Skype, social media and remote training programs, vets aren’t limited by geography -- they can connect with people all over the country who may have a job lead or insight to fuel their search. Veterans need the social and emotional support of one-on-one interactions with those who have been in their shoes. Self-paced, web-based initiatives will aid
veterans living anywhere, not just those who happen to be near a job fair.

Kyle Nygaard is one veteran who benefited from using our military support network to find employment. Nygaard job searched via career sites and company websites for one month but found the process time-consuming and futile -- the specific position he was vying for has a usual recruitment process of two years for college grads. He had the added difficulty of searching for a position in the Carolinas while living in Wisconsin.

“Within three weeks of being connected with 1kVets, I was flown to North Carolina for a job interview and subsequent offer with a prestigious accounting firm as an external auditor,” Nygaard says. “After seven and a half years in the Army, three tours to Iraq, two undergraduate degrees and one graduate degree, it was 1kVets that opened the door to the perfect position I have worked so hard to obtain.”

Veterans can become isolated when they return to a community that is new to them or has changed since they left for military service. This can turn into frustration when the reality of the difficult transition hits. Veterans need to be able to connect with people who understand them and can help through that transition, or they risk staying unemployed or winding up frustrated in a position that doesn’t match their experience and skills.

Virtually every community has a transition program for service members leaving. Let’s turn that around and use a similar tactic to welcome service members home. Let’s start leveraging all the community assets available to focus on helping a new veteran. We need to offer more to position veterans for career success -- and it starts with a sense of community.

Monger is a veteran and the founder and executive director of GallantFew, a veteran support network, and 1kVets, which seeks to help veterans quickly find work through self-paced, face-to-face, and web-based initiatives.