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Job Front: California National Guard Aims to Cut Joblessness in the Ranks

California's National Guard -- the nation's largest and busiest National Guard force -- is facing an employment crisis, and a new initiative is attacking the issue head-on.

As much as a fifth of the Golden State's National Guard is out of work or is underemployed.

Cal Guard calls the pilot program "Work for Warriors." Its mission is to link out-of-work or underemployed Guard members with employers and cut Guard unemployment by 25 percent in its first year.

The ultimate goal is to lower Cal Guard members' jobless rate to below 5 percent.

So far, an assortment of companies from across corporate California have joined the effort, including Comcast, Dollar General, Granite Construction and Solar City.

The initiative is getting help from the Capitol. The Assembly in late March contributed $500,000 to the effort.

"The guardsmen and women who are already in California, as well as those who are now beginning to return home ... deserve to have every opportunity as they make the transition back to civilian life," Assembly Speaker John A. Perez said in a statement announcing the award.

But in a tough job market, transitioning back to civilian life is a challenge.

California's unemployment rate stands at 10.9 percent, according to the state's Employment Development Department. Cal Guard leaders say the jobless rate among their men and women is much higher, anywhere from 17 percent to 20 percent.

"It becomes a readiness issue for us," said Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, adjutant general for the California National Guard, who is heading the employment effort.

Financial and family stresses, growing home and medical bills, decreased morale and joblessness affect readiness. "We had this tremendous problem that was getting worse," Baldwin said.

By teaming with civilian employers to find opportunities for Guard members and helping soldiers and airmen tune up their resumes and strengthen their job skills, Cal Guard leaders hope to turn the tide.

The state Guard is said to be the most frequently deployed in the country, with more than 37,000 deployments worldwide since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to the National Guard. Leaders are also working to make overseas tours more predictable.

"Deployments are less predictable and that's a tremendous trial for employers and guardsmen. We want to put predictability in deployment schedules," Baldwin said. "We recognize that it costs employers money."

Employers, however, are looking for the skills and traits Guard members have honed in military service.

"They know how to lead. They're physically fit. They understand how to work in a diverse environment," Baldwin said. "It's a unique value proposition what (Guard members) bring to the table. If you want a recipe for success, hire those proven leaders."

Learn more about "Work for Warriors" at www.calguard.ca.gov/EIP

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