Employers Step Up in Wake of Vet Jobs Push

First lady Michelle Obama announces new hiring commitments by the private sector as well as major accomplishments of the Joining Forces initiative during remarks at Naval Station Mayport, Florida.
First lady Michelle Obama announces new hiring commitments by the private sector as well as major accomplishments of the Joining Forces initiative during remarks at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, Aug. 20, 2012. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ian W. Anderson/U.S. Navy photo)

Despite a challenging job market, employers across the country are increasing their efforts to hire veterans in the wake of a bill granting tax breaks to those who do so, as well as a separate push by the White House encouraging employers to consider veterans and military spouses for job openings.

"We like the results we get when we hire military vets," said David Works, a Navy vet and human resources executive at Sears Holdings, which plans to increase its veteran workforce by 10% over 2012. "Not in any way is this an act of goodwill or an act of charity; it's a good business decision."

The bill, known as the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, gives tax credits to companies that hire veterans and was signed into law by President Barack Obama late last month. Under the rules of that law, the maximum general credit available is $5,600 per veteran, while the maximum under the "Wounded Warrior" credit is $9,600 per veteran. The exact amount is linked to whether the veteran has any service-linked disability and for how long they have been unemployed.

Coupled with first lady Michelle Obama's "Joining Forces" campaign, which seeks to encourage civilians to support military personnel, veterans and their families through employment and charitable outreach, companies are increasingly seeing veterans as viable job candidates.

Works said Sears' decision to hire more veterans was prompted by the Joining Forces campaign. That they will also be able to take advantage of tax breaks may allow them wiggle room to increase their focus in the future despite the tough economy.

Of Sears' 300,000 employees throughout the U.S., 30,000 are vets and 15,000 of those are Guard or Reservists, Works said. To recruit new veteran employees, Sears sends representatives to career fairs and has a full-time recruiter and veteran in their human resources department focused on the hiring of former service members.

The Walmart Corporation has also stepped up their veteran and military spouse hiring in part as a result of Joining Forces, said Phillip Keene, a spokesman with the company. Its outreach includes a website, walmartcareerswithamission.com, aimed at helping vets translate how their military-learned skills can be used in the civilian workforce, as well as acting as a sponsor for U.S. Chamber of Commerce veteran job fairs.

"We know how highly trained military veterans are," Keene said. "The military has invested a lot of training in these folks, so we know that this is a huge -- and in some ways untapped -- talent pool."

White House officials said they have been pleased with the response thus far to the VOW tax breaks and Joining Forces hiring push.

"The White House appreciates the commitments we've already received from large corporations and small businesses alike to hire more veterans and military spouses," Navy Capt. Bradley Cooper, executive director of Joining Forces, told Military.com in a statement. "We believe the VOW Act offers additional incentive for companies to hire veterans and look forward to continuing to make progress to connect veterans and military spouses to the jobs they need and deserve. "

The unemployment rate for veterans who have served since September 2001 recently decreased to 11.1% for November -- a full percentage point lower than October. The overall national unemployment rate currently stands at about 8.6%.

Faced with those numbers, finding a job can be particularly challenging for veterans, even among companies interested in hiring them, Works said.

"Employers typically at this point in time have a very good feeling about veterans, and they want to do the right thing," Works said. "I think there's that uncertainty that makes folks reluctant to take a chance" on a veteran.

Works suggested veterans make hiring easier on companies by entering job interviews well-prepared. He said learning what to expect from friends who have been through the civilian interview process before, as well as being versed on how military skills can translate to a workplace, can really help.

But his No. 1 tip for job seekers is to make sure they present a readable resume.

"The biggest thing we see is that they are incomprehensible; there's too much military jargon in there," he said. "My recommendation is just give your resume to someone who was never in the military; if they can understand it, you're in good shape. A resume remains the primary means by which employers and employees communicate with each other, and it's important to get that right."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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