For years, veterans work hard to promote our national security abroad. They're recruited into the military, promised leadership, technical skills and an opportunity to see the world. But when they return, they're faced with serious financial disempowerment and a soaring veteran unemployment rate.
In 2012, the veteran unemployment rate was 20.4 percent -- more than 5 percentage points higher than the rate for non-vets. A January 2013 survey of 4,000 vets found 16 percent were unemployed. A full 33.8 percent reported being unemployed for over a year, and more than 17 percent said they were unemployed for two years. And many groups of vets still face higher unemployment than their civilian counterparts -- older veterans, female veterans, Asian, Hispanic and black veterans are disproportionately hit even harder by unemployment.
Government and nonprofit programs are trying to help by setting up job fairs and meeting with employers to encourage them to hire veterans -- but it's "push" mentality that isn't enough. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes program has made great strides, like holding job fairs in all 50 states, each fair draws in hundreds of vets all clamoring for scant open positions. Many vets will still get overlooked and leave empty-handed. There are no hard stats on the effectiveness of job fairs for the unemployed, so it's hard to tell if these programs are really going to put a crack in the pool of unemployed veterans.
We can't just dump employers and vets into one big room together and hope for the best -- a more individualized approach is needed. Vets don't just need job fairs, they need a community. Programs that provide mentorship, lessons in online job searching and one-on-one training are what will really help address individual needs.
In a world where nearly 50 percent of workers report being referred to their job by a friend or family member, the key to fighting veteran unemployment is building a peer network with the camaraderie and internal support of those who understand vets' unique situation. Many members of the military have turned to social media to keep in touch with friends and family back home. But are they being trained to use it for their job search?
One study found that a disappointing 66 percent of new vets received employment resources during their transition back to civilian life. If they can't rely on companies and government agencies to provide this, vets need to rely on each other.
That's why my company, social job search platform Jackalope Jobs, has teamed up with GallantFew, a program that's helping service members to dismantle geographic barriers and connect with other veterans all over the country. Our joint program, 1kVets, provides a personal mentor for each unemployed individual, as well as social media training to connect veterans to jobs.
"Our joint approach to helping veterans find jobs means we're effectively giving each veteran the individualized social and emotional support they need to get back into the swing of civilian life," says veteran Karl Monger, founder and executive director of GallantFew. "Hopefully, this will open the door to employment opportunities at companies that already understand vets' needs."
We need to look at systematic problems if we want veterans to get back on their feet. Providing a way for veterans to connect with each other will build a network that will help them to stay grounded with meaningful employment for years to come.
Sudy Bharadwaj is a co-founder and the CEO of Jackalope Jobs, a platform that helps job seekers find a job via their social networks. Learn how Sudy and Jackalope Jobs obsess over job seekers by connecting with them on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.