Since the news of Osama Bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. Navy Seals broke, I’ve shied away from writing about the event. It's been covered thoroughly by media and trumpeted at every opportunity as a major coup by the current administration—which you have to admit it is, no matter which side of the political fence you're on.
So this post is not about Bin Laden and his long-time-coming demise, but rather about the U.S. military involved for years in waging the tough battle against terrorism. To be more exact, it's about the futures of these brave men and women. What happens when they come home? How and where will they find jobs in this tough economy?
As reported in the Washington Post, about 27 percent of veterans age 20 to 24 are unemployed, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. Many veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan are finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage when they look for civilian employment because they lack job-skills training.
One of the biggest barriers these young veterans face upon returning stateside is finding a job. "With their training, leadership abilities, and skills, they should be at the top of the list for jobs, and too often they go to the bottom of the pile," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who has sponsored a bill introduced in Congress May 11 that will require all U.S. service members to undergo job-skills training before leaving the military.
Called the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, the legislation would require all departing service members to participate in the Transition Assistance Program, which is administered by the Labor Department in partnership with the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to the WP article, the training, which is now voluntary, includes job-search techniques, resume writing, and interviewing tips.
The bill also will create new direct federal hiring authority to increase the number of jobs available to service members when they leave the military, and will improve veteran mentorship programs in the working world.
The WP article quoted Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which is supporting the legislation. Rieckhoff said that the veterans have "been out of the workforce, and that puts them at a disadvantage. This is a good way to soften their landing. These folks shouldn’t have to face high unemployment rates when they return. They shouldn’t be coming home to unemployment checks."
According to Murray's office, as many as one-third of departing service members do not participate in the program, and commanders do not always set aside time to permit demobilizing service members to take advantage of the training. Some service members are given little or no information about the program, and some simply do not want the training.
Murray noted that the numbers of unemployed young veterans might grow as more troops return from Afghanistan. "Twenty years from now, it will be on the conscience of our country if we don’t do something to address this problem," she said.
Some communities are taking it upon themselves to help veterans find jobs. On Tuesday, May 17, the Army National Guard Armory in Appleton, Wis., hosted a job fair geared specifically for military veterans. Presented by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development's Office of Veterans Services, the fair featured more than 40 businesses.
An article on postcrescent.com about the fair described how veteran Morgen Decker came prepared to find a job with a binder full of resumes. Decker, 23, of Green Bay, is an Army reservist who has served in the National Guard for five years. According to the article, he was an intelligence analyst in the Army and is comfortable with technology-oriented jobs. But he also has experience working in manufacturing and call centers.
Since he returned home in January 2010 after serving in Iraq, Decker has found an assortment of positions from clerical jobs to journeymen electricians and is happy with the variety. He's hoping to find something with more hours.
Menasha, Wis., resident Ken McKenzie served in the Navy for 23 years and soon will be retiring from active service. He attended the job fair in search of engineering work as either a power plant manager or in maintenance.
"I'll just take what I can get," McKenzie said. "It's pretty cut-throat out there because a lot of people are looking for work."
Yes, it is cut-throat out there, and returning service members need all the help they can get moving to the top of the job-seeker pile. Hopefully the Hiring Heroes Act will give them a leg up.
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