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Fight Needs To Focus On Veterans As Valuable Assets In Civilian Employment – Our Country Depends On It!

By Phil Chan

The time I spent on active duty in the Air Force provided me the opportunities for growth that have shaped my personal and professional life. I joined the Air Force as an enlisted electronics technician and maintained complex avionics systems, surveilled airspace over the United States, and deployed in support of combat operations. I was often faced with making quick decisions based on incomplete information to enable mission success and save lives. Based on my performance, I was fortunate to be commissioned as an officer and selected to command combat aircraft in multiple theaters. I had the honor of deploying and serving alongside some of the most dedicated and strategic leaders our nation has to offer. Emulating the skills and processes of these leaders has allowed me to improve aspects of my life that eventually morphed into a civilian career. While veteran unemployment rates continue to show improvement, we are far from declaring victory and moving along to the next fight.  The United States Department of Labor’s latest survey, from February 2018, reported the current veteran unemployment rate to be 3.5%, an improvement from the 3.9% reported in February of 2017.  Credit for this improvement goes to our nation’s collective efforts in improving post service life and opportunities for this population. The private sector continues to develop programs to provide employment outreach for disabled American veterans. The Department of Veteran Affairs continues to improve access to health care and benefits for eligible service members, veterans, and family members. The nonprofit sector continues to advocate for improved reintegration resources and transition assistance for veterans and their families. These efforts are supported by the researchers from each field, ensuring that leaders from each arena are armed with the information and metrics required to make educated decisions on the future of policy, economics, and management of our veteran population.

While the improving unemployment rate for veterans is certainly a laudable trend, we must not forget about the 3.5% of veterans who are still struggling with securing employment. Over the next five years, an estimated one million military personnel will transition into civilian life. This means that even if the current veteran unemployment rates hold, an estimated 35,000 veterans will fail to find jobs.

Employers and veterans cite skill alignment as the most significant barrier to gaining civilian employment. Considering that our nation’s military personnel comprise an extremely motivated, trained, and capable group, this “skill alignment” barrier is perplexing. Often, this “skill alignment” barrier results from poor translation of skills and experience. Employers are not always versed in military terminology and jargon.

Properly translating and quantifying military experience and qualifications into standard civilian industry verbiage is often the first step in transition. Accurate translation of military to civilian skills prevent confusion and underemployment. Unfortunately, transition challenges like skill translation, often prevent veterans and their family members from their best employment opportunities. How can organizations, assist this population in better preparing for the transition into the civilian workforce?

Collectively, we must continue to train and educate both service members, military families and employers on how to manage successful transitions into the civilian sector. How can we do this?  By providing service members and their family’s access to degree and certification programs help them to attach industry-recognized certifications to their military experiences. By increasing entrepreneurship and business startup opportunities. By connecting transitioning veterans with their communities ensures they have timely access to the supportive services and veteran’sbenefits they have earned.

Take this opportunity to both celebrate improvements in veteran employment and reflect on your organization’s practices. Identify areas that could be enhanced in your human resources process that could increase veteran hiring. Share best practices for attracting skilled veterans with other organizations. Network with veteran friendly organizations and military friendly universities.  Start an employee resource group.

As I reflect on my own military service, I find myself wondering where my extraordinary leaders ended up after their military careers. I wonder what employers and organizations were lucky enough to secure these assets and utilize them to their full and battle tested potential. These small steps I discussed today can result in big wins for those who served their country.  Together, we can continue to positively affect veteran employment.

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