In the wake of the conflicts of the past 15 years, a new generation of veterans are facing the challenges of returning to civilian life. For many, the process is not an easy one.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5.9 percent of Post-9/11 veterans are unemployed, a rate higher than both the 4.7 percent all veteran average and 4.9 percent national average. They are also more likely to be unemployed than civilians peers of the same age and gender. Home to 752,000 veterans, this problem has hit Georgia especially hard.
In response to these challenges, Gov. Nathan Deal in 2012 charged the Georgia Department of Economic Development with implementing several veteran hiring initiatives under the banner Operation: Workforce. Aimed at bridging the divide between veterans’ experience and employers’ needs, Operation: Workforce appeals both to employers and to vets entering the workforce.
Headed by Margaret Miller, Operation: Workforce makes a pragmatic argument for why employers should pay vets special attention. Eschewing the idea that employers are simply duty bound to hire veterans as thanks for their service, the program instead focuses on the value veterans add to the workplace.
Ben Hames, Georgia Deputy Commissioner of Workforce, acknowledges that the benefits of hiring veterans are not always clear. The challenge, he says, is in conveying to employers and vets alike the ways a service member’s competencies, rank, and designations translate to the civilian workforce.
In an interview, Hames highlighted the value veterans can bring, pointing out translatable competencies including technical skills like IT and mechanical proficiency. He made a point to stress the fact that all veterans have at least one skill every employer looks for: “the ability to work on a team.”
In order to spread awareness of how skills like these translate, the Department of Economic Development sponsored its first Operation: Workforce Employer Summit in November 2015. Held at Fort Benning, the summit brought employers from 56 different companies together with over 500 transitioning service members.
Viewed largely as a success, the Operation: Workforce Employer Summit featured training for employers and veterans on how to translate military service into a civilian resume. The summit also featured on the spot job interviews for transitioning service members, and offered opportunities for employers and soon to be veterans to establish professional connections.
When Operation: Workforce was established in 2012, 7.9 percent of Georgia’s veteran population was unemployed. As of March of this year that number has dropped to 4.9 percent, hovering just above the 4.6 percent national average.
While private-public partnerships have cut Georgia’s veteran unemployment rate nearly in half, Georgia’s Department of Economic Development has sought the help of academic and non-profit experts to drive up veteran employment even further.
The Veterans Education Training and Transition program, or VET2, is a Georgia Tech initiative aimed at providing veterans and military spouses a foot in the door in the civilian workforce. Fully funded by the Georgia Department of Economic Development and overseen by Dr. James Wilbur, VET2 is one of the first programs of its kind.
Veterans in the program spend several weeks in the classroom, receiving professional training to make them competitive in the civilian job market. VET2 also matches veterans with employers to provide a three-week internship, offering professional experience and networking critical for success in the civilian workforce.
Just as Operation: Workforce has been successful, VET2 has seen 97 percent of its participants go on to full time employment, with an annual average salary of $57,000. As of July, 97 transitioning service members had completed the program, and another 7,000 are expected to go through the program over the next several years.
Ben Hames pointed out in his interview that the Georgia Department of Economic Development believes strongly in cooperation. As long as Hames and his department continue to partner with employers and experts, veteran unemployment in Georgia can be expected to continue to decline.