Veterans Face New Battle in Private-Sector Job Market
Senior Editor, CNBC
"Trying to find a job out of the service is almost as scary as being in the military," said Osvaldo Rivera, who will leave the U.S. Army at the end of March after 21 years of service. "The competition is fierce."
The 40-year-old Rivera lives with his wife — who is also a veteran — and two small children in the town of Killeen, Texas, which is home to the Fort Hood military base.
"I graduated high school and had one semester of college, and then joined the Army and had jobs I loved," said Rivera, who was once an Army recruiter. "Now, it's just submit a resume and play the waiting game like a lot of vets have to do."
The soon-to-be-ex-master sergeant is just one of millions of veterans looking for work these days in a job market that's struggling for civilians, as well as those coming out of the military.
The current jobless rate for all U.S. veterans — some 21.8 million of them — stands at around 8.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That mirrors the current overall rate of unemployment in the U.S.
A further breakdown reveals pockets of higher unemployment. The jobless rate for vets who served since the9/11 attacks stands at 12.01 percent. That’s a decline from the 14.7 percent at the same time in 2011, but still higher than the overall veteran and nonveteran average.
And for young male veterans ages 18 through 24, the jobless rate is 29.1 percent — much higher than the rate of 17.6 percent for nonvets in the same age group. Nearly 22 percent of female veterans — an estimated 50,000 — who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were unemployed in December 2011, according to statistics.
It’s numbers like these that show the difficulty many vets are having, says Stephen Norred of Vets4Heroes, a group that helps veterans find work in the private sector.
"We need more help, and vets need to be moved to the front of the line when it comes to getting jobs," Norred, a retired naval officer explained. "These people have served their county with three, some times four or more tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan."
There is some help in the works. In November 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which among other things, offers businesses tax credits for hiring unemployed vets and those with disabilities.
The law also provides online tools to aid in job searches, and the administration has partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the private sector to make it easier to connect veterans with companies that want to hire them.
Even with a top down effort, however, the transition from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces to working in the private sector can be difficult.
Mostly, it's transitioning skills learned in the military to those needed in business, says Mike Starich, president of Orion International, a for-profit recruiting firm that places vets in jobs with major firms such as Intel ,Samsung,Honeywell , and Conocophillips .
"A lot of veterans get great training in the military, whether it's technology or management or leadership skills," Starich explained. "But how a company might use that person when they leave the military becomes a problem for some vets."
A case in point, says Mike Beal of the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Center for Veterans Issues, is the terminology used in the military.
"We had a vet interview for a job and said 'I'm a 0351 Alpha,' " Beal says. "The person sitting across from him had no idea that it meant he was an anti-tank gunner. We use a lot of acronyms in the military and vets need to know how to translate that into civilian speak."
Even with their military training, many veterans need more education as they try to enter the workforce, says Lynda Horne, who is contract compliance officer at the Center for Veterans Issues.
"Some vets need extra training or retraining to get a job," Horne said. "They need to make themselves marketable and improve their skill sets."
"Start looking for work as early as you can."
"I've been diagnosed with PTSD and I'm working," Beal explained. "We need to get the word out that it's not a reason not to hire someone."
For their part, companies that do hire veterans—like product development firm Tronex International in Olive, New Jersey—say they can see some slight differences between a military candidate and a civilian.