Returning Veterans Face Tough Job Market

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On any given day, you will find Brian Reynolds recruiting new hires at a job fair, military base or an employment-services office. In his industry, where turnover is high, tapping the abundant talent pool of returning veterans has been a bonanza for his company, G4S Secure Solutions, a security services provider.

Unfortunately, Reynolds finds most businesses aren't as enthusiastic: "There are some excellent companies out there recruiting, but it's always the same companies. With the huge amount of returning veterans and the huge amount of unemployment, we need to see more."

After 10 years at war, U.S. soldiers are returning from the front line to fight another battle: unemployment. It's a tragic dose of reality for the men and women who went from leading troops and saving lives to finding themselves without income and desperate to help support their families. They face fierce competition in a labor force where demand still outweighs job openings. A recent report issued by the U.S Army shows that the impact of high unemployment on returning soldiers has been devastating, particularly for the 18- to 24-year-olds.

Across the country, outreach has been significant. Communities and employers publicly express their desire to help military members reenter the civilian workforce. But as I discovered in the past few weeks, there's a dreadful gap between intent and reality.

When I probed some employers who said they hired veterans, few were able to provide numbers, names or even prove the soldiers they hired are still employed. "I'll get back to you" became the commonplace answer. A Miami-area Residence Inn that received an award for supporting veterans told me its former military member no longer works there. The Continental Group, a Florida property manager, told me it is committed to hiring returning veterans, but said it hasn't put its plan together yet to do that.

Clearly, frustration on both sides is high.

"We have commitments from 15 South Florida companies to hire. The next step is monitoring whether they do it," said Diana Gonzalez, a coordinator with the Miami-Dade Defense Alliance, a program of the Beacon Council.

Gonzalez and others say the country appears to still be in the first phase -- getting post-9/11 veterans ready for the civilian labor force. Some are suffering post traumatic stress disorder or physical wounds. Others need more training or education, or haven't come to grips with a disparity between their expectations and available positions. Employers give examples of veterans who will come for the first interview but not the second or are hired but quit soon after because they can't take the stress or monotony of the job.

At the same time, some veterans feel employers undervalue their skills. Sergio Camero, 24, an Army medic who returned from Iraq in January 2011, said the few job offers he initially received were at such low pay levels he didn't feel he could support his wife and newborn son. A few weeks ago, he landed a job in Miami as a site supervisor with G4S Secure Solutions USA. Camero will start his full-time post later this week. "It's a sense of relief. It's been a rough transition."

Across the country, it's been clear that the bigger companies are more willing to take the risk of hiring a returning military veteran. This is particularly true for reservists, who still are required to train one weekend a month and for a few weeks in the summer and could be called back to duty at any time.

"For small businesses, it takes effort and resources to go through the hiring process. When they hire, they have to make sure it's the right person and that they will be able to stay," Gonzalez said.

For employers of all sizes, one of the biggest challenges is how to evaluate military against civilian candidates. In a job environment where resumes carry hefty weight, getting a veteran's resume through the initial online screening is critical.

Ed Tobon, director of recruiting services for Ryder System, was hired in 2010 and now oversees its national program to hire veterans. Like the individuals he now recruits, Tobon says he experienced the dilemma of translating his Navy skills into a language a corporation would consider valuable. It took about five months to figure out.

"It was not an easy transition," he said.

Now he tries to help other veterans apply for open jobs at his company. "The challenge is making sure their resume reads well enough that hiring managers can look at it and see how their skill sets line up."

Ryder, a Fortune 500 logistics company headquartered in Miami, hired 600 veterans in 2011. Tobon said they now work as diesel mechanics, truck drivers, logistics managers, warehouse and distribution managers or coordinators. Ryder has pledged to hire 1,000 more veterans by the end of 2013 and will participate in military career fairs sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The next step, Tobon said, will be creating an on-boarding program to help newly hired veterans make the transition into their jobs. "In the next 24 months, we'll focus on whether we need different training, whether we need to get HR mangers involved in the training, whether we need to create an employee resource group for them."

Ryder hasn't tracked how many of the 600 hired in 2011 remain employed at the company, but may consider it in the future.

Most states have government staff charged with finding employers to hire veterans and make them aware of new tax incentives for hiring. Yian Perrin, Florida's Department of Economic Opportunities program manager, says employers who have positions available are receptive to his requests to hire veterans, but more so in industries where positions are an obvious fit -- trucking, security, marine or aviation.

About 30 percent of employers at a recent Veterans Job Fair in Miami hired former military job candidates, he said. Realistically, he said, many need help overcoming barriers before they appeal to employers: "If they worked on a line and loaded bombs onto an airplane, it's hard to find a comparable job in civilian life."

Reynolds of G4S Secure Solutions -- formerly Wackenhut -- says his company has hired more than 2,700 veterans nationwide. He will tell anyone he meets why war veterans make ideal job candidates in almost any industry: "They know how to work under duress, they demonstrate leadership and they know how to work as a team."

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegal@gmail.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.

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(c)2012 The Miami Herald

Visit The Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WRK-BALANCINGACT

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