The Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled a website stocked with job-seeking tools in hopes of recruiting more veterans to work for it.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki set a goal to increase the percentage of veterans who work for the VA from 30 to 40 percent.
John Sepulveda, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration, told Shinseki he needed to put together a network of tools to help more veterans transition from the military to federal employment.
Veterans can find that network at the "VA for Vets" website at www.vaforvets.va.gov, which went live on Veteran's Day.
VA for Vets is part of a larger effort to find jobs for veterans. The unemployment rate for veterans was 12 percent in October 2011, the month before the website was introduced. The national unemployment rate is 8.6 percent.
Finding a job as a young veteran is even more desperate. Those between the ages of 18 and 24 face a 30 percent unemployment rate, although Sepulveda said that's skewed by the number of young veterans who go to school and take advantage of the GI Bill.
Veterans can use tools such as a military skills translator to help document their military experiences onto a resume that potential employers can understand. The website also puts veterans in contact with career coaches to prepare them for interviews and talk through the all important questions like "what do you want to do the rest of your life."
Tools like these have existed in the past. What's different is how closely VA for Vets lashes each tool together into a package allowing veterans to navigate the bureaucracy that comes with applying and accepting a federal job, Sepulveda said.
"We said it's not just enough to have a military skills translator. We want to provide the functions and services and help that veterans need to get over that finish line," Sepulveda said.
Officials wanted to take the next step past just building a resume in helping veterans find jobs at the VA.
"Clearly, the translation for military skills had to be at the core, but we needed to do much better than we had before in recruiting veterans," Sepulveda said.
About 50,000 people have tested the site since its soft opening on Veteran's Day in November. Sepulveda said his team wanted to work out any early kinks before blasting it out to the veteran community.
On Jan. 18, he wants to alert more veterans to the site when the VA hosts a career fair in Washington, D.C., at the Washington Convention Center. Along with over 4,000 job opportunities, veterans will be able to log onto VA for Vets and build their resume right on site.
Sepulveda said the event at the convention center will be one of the largest career fairs targeting veterans. His team has made sure that any companies or federal agencies with booths must provide interviews for available jobs on site.
The VA reached out to private contractors to build the web site. (Full disclosure, Monster.com, Military.com's parent company, is a subcontractor on the project.)
Sepulveda said he didn't want the VA to have to build a new site from scratch because it would have taken too long and veterans need jobs now.
"We wanted to tap into other companies who have expertise in this area," Sepulveda said.
If the site is successful, he said the VA intends to expand its reach beyond VA jobs and offer it to other federal agencies. In the future, Sepulveda wants to use it to connect veterans to civilian jobs too.
Many of the tools offered for free on the site already translate to private-sector jobs such as the military skills translator and the career counseling.
"You can certainly use that resume to apply for jobs in the private sector," Sepulveda said.
Boosting the number of veterans working for the VA remains the inspiration for the project, but getting veterans to work remains the priority.
Finding a job is an acute challenge for reservists and Guardsmen, especially those returning from deployments. Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz said the Defense Department and the government as a whole needs to do a better job connecting his reservists to employers.
Sepulveda said VA for Vets was designed with reservists in mind.
The VA has spent the past decade creating different solutions to reduce the unemployment rate. With troops out of Iraq and the services cutting end strength, Sepulveda said the VA needs to ramp up its efforts to help veterans find jobs.
"Let's help get veterans jobs and bring down the unemployment rate and strengthen the economy," Sepulveda said.