Veterans Come Home To Tough Job Market
As the war in Iraq winds down and troops come home by the end of the year, many of them are undoubtedly looking to life after the military.
That means looking for a job in the civilian world.
This week, President Obama spoke at the White House about what veterans bring to the workforce.
“Think about the leadership they’ve learned. The cutting edge technologies that they’ve mastered. Their ability to adapt to changing and unpredictable circumstances you just can’t get from a classroom,” said Obama.
But if the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is any indication, some will have trouble making a quick transition to the civilian workplace.
Chris Sandoval joined the Army back in 2008. He had had a few other jobs before he joined. He always wanted to be in law enforcement.
Now he’s leaving the military, and ready to get back on that path.
He’s aiming for some kind of law enforcement: ATF or DEA agent. Maybe a state trooper. Ideally, a Texas Ranger.
He’s taking college classes with the GI Bill to get on that track. But in the meantime, he needs a job to help support himself and his wife. But for Sandoval and other veterans leaving the service, finding a job right now can be tough.
“I guess it’s kind of like when someone first graduates from college – they think ‘Oh, I just graduated from college, I can get any job I want, it’s not going to take that long.’ And then you graduate and then you go out there and you’re like ‘Oh, I need experience to do this job. I guess I gotta start at the bottom’,” said Sandoval.
Sandoval has tried to find a job that’s flexible enough to let him take college classes, so he can get a better job in the future.
“I found a job that seemed perfect for me, down the road from the house,” said Sandoval. “It was a boot camp drill instructor. For children, at risk children. I love working with kids – motivating them and trying to put them on the right path. And I applied for it – I was like ‘Who’s better to be a boot camp drill instructor for teenagers?’ You know, someone who’s been in the military.”
It wasn’t the first job he got turned down for. And he’s not alone among veterans.
In fact, while the nation’s overall unemployment rate ticked down very slightly last month, the rate was up among veterans who left the military since 9/11.
“I do see that a lot…where here’s someone who’s given up a big chunk of their life to serve overseas, to go ahead and defend this country, and then they get back and they’re saying ‘Where’s the jobs?’,” said Gabriel Galindo, an Iraq war veteran, who’s now a job counselor with the Texas Veterans’ Commission.
Civilians have their resume and their work history that employers can look at and get a good idea of whether they’re qualified, “and a veteran, they come out of the military, they don’t know how to convert that into civilian skills,” said Galindo. “Sometimes employers will look at that and say ‘Well, you’ve been in the military, you know, I can’t use you. How can I use you? What skills have you got? You know, I’m not asking you to shoot a weapon.’”
“They look at your military, but they don’t really look at your previous work history before your military,” said Sandoval. “So currently, I’m an infantry soldier. So that does kind of pigeon hole me into police work, security, corrections.”
Even highly trained veterans may have a hard time using the skills they learned in the service when they get to the private sector.
“Even though I served 11 years as a paralegal, and I worked on everything from working criminal justice in the courtroom – to legal reviews, administrative law, rules of engagement things – on the outside I don’t have that little certificate, little piece of paper that says I can do this,” said Galindo.
Galindo says some progress has been made since he got out. Some professions, like the law, have begun to recognize the experience that veterans bring to the table.
People who counsel veterans in their job search advise that even the most basic things learned in the military can be a selling point for employers.
“All any of them want is somebody that can be trained. They have the discipline and reliability. And those are the three things employers want the most in an employee,” said Gene Kruppa, a Navy veteran and an employment representative with the Texas Veterans Commission. ”So, hey, I got a veteran for you.”
Texas has the nation’s second highest population of veterans. And it does have a good track record for helping vets find work. This week the White House announced new measures aimed at helping connect veterans with jobs, including career counseling and a new jobs database. Proposed tax breaks for employers who hire veterans are still pending in Congress.
Meantime, veterans like Chris Sandoval are still searching for the job that’s not going to keep them “at the bottom”.
“I’d want to advance further than that,” said Sandoval. “You know, in life, in career…for kids. I guess for the future, you know, for me and my wife. So I keep hope, I keep it up. You know, we’ll see what happens.”