Support for Veterans Transitioning to Education and Employment
Veterans’ High Rates of Unemployment, and Post-Discharge Transition Strategies, Discussed in Apollo Research Institute Webinar
By Courtney L. Vien
Soon, thousands of service members will return home from Iraq or Afghanistan, and many will choose to leave the military and pursue civilian careers. Though service members possess many qualities employers find attractive, such as leadership, discipline, and the ability to work well in teams, veterans sometimes struggle on the civilian job market. They do not always receive sufficient transition assistance and may not know how to write a resume, conduct a behavioral interview, translate their military experience into civilian terms, or find employers who value their skill sets.
As a result, unemployment rates for veterans who served since 2001 are higher, at 11.5%, than they are for civilians (9.4%) or veterans of all wars (8.7%; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). Service members likewise face many challenges when pursuing the college degrees that many of today’s well-paying jobs require. As nontraditional students, they must balance the demands of work, school, and family. Those still serving may find that frequent deployments interrupt their education.
To further examine the difficulties veterans confront while transitioning to civilian life, and to propose ways to make the transition more effective, Apollo Research Institute convened a panel of experts including employers, educators, and veteran services professionals. Moderated by Tracey Wilen-Daugenti, Vice President and Managing Director of Apollo Research Institute, the panel presented a webinar titled From Enlisted to Employed: Educating Military Veterans for Civilian Careers, on October 20, 2011. The webinar is available to download at http://apolloresearchinstitute.com/webinars/higher-education-and-military-service/enlisted-employed-educating-military-veterans-civilian.
Veterans Make Strong Leaders and Employees
Panelists agreed that problems with the job search, not lack of skills, are what keep military personnel from finding employment. Military service shapes them into strong leaders with a broad range of marketable attributes. They also accrue diverse experience during their service that they can readily apply to the civilian workplace.
Employers, too, recognize that veterans have an array of valuable skills. A recent Apollo Research Institute study, Hiring Heroes: Employer Perceptions, Preferences, and Hiring Practices Related to U.S. Military Personnel, showed that managers rate military personnel as superior to civilians in team orientation, work ethic, reliability, and assertiveness (Zia Mian, 2011). The study also found that manufacturing and construction/home improvement are two of the most military-friendly industries. Panelists named the STEM, IT, criminal justice, business, education, and nursing fields as sectors where veterans can put their skills to best use.
Source: Adapted from Zia Mian, M. (2011.) Hiring heroes: Employer perceptions, preferences, and hiring practices related to U.S. military personnel. Retrieved from http://apolloresearchinstitute.com/node/40.
Education Enhances Veterans’ Career Prospects
Today, panelists agreed, military personnel need education as well as experience. As Apollo Research Institute’s study found, most employers would prefer hiring a job applicant with a college degree and 10 years of military experience to hiring a candidate with no degree and 20 years of experience.
Veterans encounter many challenges when pursuing higher education. As nontraditional students, they must balance work, family, and school. Many are unfamiliar with the practices and procedures of higher education. While enlisted, they may be deployed or relocated, which can interrupt their education. Communicating with faculty and classmates can be an obstacle for overseas students, and returning veterans may struggle with feelings of isolation on college campuses where they are surrounded by younger students with less life experience.
Fortunately, veterans are getting the message that education is important, and they are returning to school in large numbers. Once accustomed to degree programs, veterans make excellent students—who are often older and more self-directed than their classmates. Colleges and universities can help by becoming more military-friendly: providing student veterans with assistance in receiving education benefits, advocating for veterans’ issues on campus, increasing access for disabled students, and expanding online or distance learning opportunities.
Supporting Veterans’ Transitions to Education and Employment
The panelists concurred that veterans make valuable additions to the civilian workforce. “Educators and employers can support troops in transition by developing programs that help veterans parlay their military experience into advantages and opportunities in the job market,” said Wilen-Daugenti. “With a combination of education, hands-on experience, and highly sought-after skills, veterans are among the most qualified candidates to fill the millions of available jobs in today’s economy.”
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011, March 11). Employment situation of veterans—2010. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/vet.nr0.htm
Zia Mian, M. (2011). Hiring heroes: Employer perceptions, preferences, and hiring practices related to U.S. military personnel. Retrieved from http://apolloresearchinstitute.com/sites/default/files/military_personnel_report_cropped.pdf
Courtney L. Vien, Ph.D. writes on a wide range of topics for Apollo Research Institute.