Every year, roughly 200,000 enlisted service members separate from the military and begin their transition back to civilian life. For most veterans, that transition into a “new normal” also means finding a new job. In fact, more than 9 million veterans participate in the civilian labor force. But many face unique challenges to securing meaningful and stable work.
In September 2019, veteran unemployment dropped to 3.2 percent, falling below the non-veteran unemployment rate of 3.4 percent. However, some veterans struggle to find work more than others: Post-9/11 veterans (Gulf War-era II) experienced a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, a figure that’s significantly higher than their counterparts from earlier periods of service. And while men and women experience unemployment at similar rates, those with a service-connected disability (which accounts for a quarter of all veterans, and 41 percent of post-9/11 veterans) were unemployed at a rate of 5.2 percent according to 2018 data.
Additionally, many veterans who find work face additional hurdles, despite often being highly-skilled, educated and reliable, and having strong leadership abilities. Nearly one out of every three veterans are underemployed — meaning that they are overqualified, underpaid or only working part-time despite wanting a full-time role — and tend to leave their first jobs after service sooner than non-veterans.
Veteran’s Day is a good reminder that we owe former service people a great deal, and city leaders should play a critical role in deciding how our communities will offer support. Connecting people to employment can enormously improve a veteran’s transition to civilian life, provide a buffer against veteran homelessness and signal a commitment to ensuring that a person’s service is appreciated. As an elected official, it also benefits your economy and fosters comfort for all citizens.
Here are four ways for city officials to help tackle some of the employment challenges that veterans face:
Help facilitate a smooth transition into the civilian workforce
Like any other job seeker, veterans are looking for a career that will be the right fit — but their military experience and skillset can easily be “lost in translation” when entering the civilian job market. While employees with strong leadership and adaptability could benefit almost any business, many veterans report feeling frustrated about not making an impact, particularly in their first roles outside of the military.
Work with your local Veterans Affairs (VA) teams to facilitate resume building workshops, practice interviews or direct job search assistance. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative also offers an impactful set of resources, tools and opportunities.
Work with local businesses to encourage hiring veterans
While a majority of small business owners report wanting to hire veterans, one study shows that fewer than half have actually done so and just 10 percent have intentionally recruited veterans. Collaboratives and resources like Veteran Jobs Mission and PsychArmor can help bridge the knowledge gap about military experience and offer best practices to business leaders and hiring managers for finding a good fit for a veteran employee.
Connect veterans with targeted programs and unique learning opportunities
In addition to employment programs facilitated federally, many private and nonprofit organizations have developed resources specifically intended to help veterans find work that is right for them. There are numerous programs to help veterans pivot into working in technology, including Microsoft, Salesforce and Patriot Boot Camp which administer tech entrepreneurship training. Bunker Labs also offers a support network for veteran entrepreneurs. Habitat for Humanity and its Veterans Build initiative offers both employment and housing opportunities for veterans, and the Home Builders Institute (HBI) Veterans Program provides skill building opportunities in the construction and trade industries with support from partners like the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Home Depot Foundation. Free LinkedIn premium access is also available to members of the military community to assist in the job hunt process.
Don’t forget about military spouses
According to a 2016 report from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, there were more than 1 million active, Guard and Reserve military spouses in the United States, in addition to more than 15 million military veterans’ spouses. As a function of their partner’s work, many military spouses experience frequent moves and military spouse unemployment ranges from roughly 20 to 25 percent. Resources like the Military Spouse Employment Partnership can be key to connecting military spouses to job opportunities, career counseling and financial support for education and training to enter into a “portable” career field. The Department of Labor also offers information about license recognition options between states, and licensing reimbursement. Work with your local offices to ensure that military families understand the full range of supports available to all whose careers are impacted by military service.
About the author: Natasha Leonard is a graduate student intern for the Center for City Solutions team at the National League of Cities. She is completing her master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. Follow her on Twitter @NatashaJLeonard.