Fri08012014

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Veterans are an untapped resource

The unemployment rate for returning veterans in Virginia is 12.2% as compared with 5.5% for rest of the working population. It’s a serious problem. However, its solution, narrowing that gap, and getting veterans back into the workforce isn’t necessarily a government responsibility. Rather, it’s something that we as a community need to encourage and support.

If you’re an employer and are ready to hire someone, a veteran brings a lot to the interview. Just consider the nature of military service. It’s about self-discipline, being organized, being efficient, and most of all, about getting the job done. These young men and women have handled all kinds of responsibilities and assignments that required leadership and attention to detail. They know all about getting up in the morning, about being on time, and about listening to instructions. They’re also used to making do with what they have, being innovative, and most importantly taking the initiative.

Could there be a better employee? That’s not to say that every veteran is a fit for every job. They’re not, but what they learn in the military can be a great asset to a potential employer. A friend of mine, who recently left the Navy, had, during his service, qualified for a cryogenics program. Cryogenics, in a nutshell, is the technology the Navy uses to make oxygen for pilots and liquid nitrogen for cooling. This field has a significant math requirement that includes calculus. Calculus still gives me nightmares. Thing is, I knew his math classes in high school only extended to Algebra I. And in this he was no star.  

When I asked him about this, he said it was hard, but he learned the math he needed along the way. As someone who barely survived his college calculus “learning it along the way” isn’t something I could easily imagine doing. But, that’s the attitude you get from many veterans. Thanks to a combination of intelligence, focus, and confidence, they can readily learn the skills they need.
I have been a little distressed that all the publicity about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and various other injuries suffered in combat, has left some responsible people thinking that many of our veterans are like Sylvester Stallone in Rambo. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. That image is a Hollywood creation. The young men and women who came home suffering from PTSD and other related combat induced mental conditions are as anxious as any of their comrades to return to normal life. For many, it’s about getting that chance.

Veterans, however, have demonstrated one problem in applying for civilian jobs. Perhaps it’s because translating military training and experience into civilian skills can sometimes be difficult. But, it shouldn’t be. The skills a young soldier, airman, marine, or sailor learns are highly useful in the civilian environment. Most have had responsibility for all sorts of complex equipment. They know about leading teams and about finishing an assignment. They’re also good communicators. Explaining a situation, or a problem, and recommending a solution is something the military stresses at all levels. Certainly this skill would come in handy in a sales call or at a job site.

Finally, given a choice, shouldn’t we also, in making a hiring decision, consider what these young men and women have done for their country? They went to war, many being deployed three of four times, and now, they’re returning to civilian life. They sacrificed for us.  Maybe it’s time we did them a good turn.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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