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Matthew Glynn

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Veteran Unemployment: 'America's Returning Soldiers Don't Want Handouts'

Posted: 06/26/2012 9:00 am

America's renewed focus on the employment of veterans is nothing short of remarkable, and yet challenges to our community remain.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, the unemployment rate of young male veterans who had served since 9/11 was 29 percent -- over 10 percent higher than the national average for that same male age group.

Vets entering the workforce face the daunting challenge of translating their military skills and experience into terms that employers understand. In last month's report by the Center for a New American Security, nearly 60 percent of companies surveyed mentioned difficulties understanding veteran résumés, as well as negative perceptions of veterans, as barriers to employment. Service-related acronyms and the complicated military personnel evaluation system can be difficult for hiring managers to gauge candidate qualifications. And with nearly 20 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans screening positive for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression, many hopefuls find that integrating into society in general and the workforce in particular can be challenges of their own.

Yet the news isn't all bad, and Corporate America is reaching its stride in its support of veterans and our families.

I can speak from experience that the organizations supporting veteran employment initiatives have a major impact. After my fifth deployment to the Middle East, and nearly 14 years on Active Duty, I returned home in the fall of last year to begin my career in the civilian world. I had been preparing for years. I had already finished my MBA, mostly funded by the military. The Air Force provided free Project Management Professional courses, and the VA paid for my certification. For the past two years I'd been working with a corporate mentor under the nonprofit American Corporate Partners (ACP) program. My mentor, an executive for NewsCorp, coached me through résumé building and translating my leadership skills into corporate speak. Friends, family, and military colleagues opened up their professional networks to make connections and provide additional advice. Transition Assistance Programs, offered by the Air Force, gave me the chance to practice interviewing in a role-playing atmosphere. I was even provided with free suits for interviews through a partnership between the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and JC Penny. I feel that my hard work in preparation was equally matched by friends and organizations that wanted me to succeed, in the context of a momentous rise in national support for soldiers, veterans, and our families.

I am happy to report that I successfully interviewed for a position with my company of first choice, Amgen, a biotechnology company in Southern California. My transition to Corporate America has gone as you might expect: a steep learning curve, a radically different environment, and a never-ending list of questions to ask. As a project manager, my role as a team member of projects that affect multiple sites and functions of my company's Operations division affords me the opportunity to work on initiatives that are critical to our bottom line.

My military experience of frequent moves and new leadership roles has helped hasten my adjustment. Surprisingly, corporate America has a great deal in common with the military. The mission (ours is serving patients) is paramount. The ability to influence groups around shared objectives is critical, especially with those groups don't fall under a simple organizational structure. And people are the most important part of any organization. My new colleagues have demonstrated nothing but the highest level of respect for my skills and background, even if they're not the corporate norm. Amgen acknowledges the service of veteran employees through various events, and is a steadfast supporter of those who continue to serve in the National Guard and Reserve.

The best part is that my company is far from alone in the corporate world in our support for veterans. A quick glance of the paper version of the recently released Fortune 500 issue reveals an impressive array of corporate proclamations and displays of support for veteran workers. American Corporate Partners continues to add corporate sponsors who each bring a pool of mentors ready and willing to provide personalized coaching to veterans looking for work.

Companies large and small have committed to hiring increasing number of veteran workers. As part of the White House's Joining Forces campaign, 1,600 companies have hired more than 70,000 veterans and their spouses in the last year.

America's returning soldiers don't want handouts.

We want to work as hard in the civilian world was we worked defending our country. We want to prove that our skills honed in the military, including leadership, perseverance, and dedication to the mission, will provide value to our employers. Corporate America is stepping up to the plate, and America's veterans must do the same. Ideally, a veteran's preparation for the transition starts years ahead of his or her actual separation or retirement date. With a little coaching, the right tools, and a good degree of hard work, we'll get there together. The men and women that I've had the pleasure of serving with in the military are truly the finest that America has to offer, and I have no doubt that our community, if given the opportunity, will continue its service to America in the private sector.

 
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