Many of those who serve our nation as a member of the military find an entirely new set of challenges when it comes to starting, or restarting, their civilian careers. The unemployment rate for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan for example hover some 40% higher than the national average. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the military-to-civilian recruitment firm RecruitMilitary are trying to do something about that with Hiring Our Heroes/RecruitMilitary Veteran Opportunity Expo; part of a nationwide initiative to increase the hiring of veterans by producing special career fair hiring events.
RecruitMilitary invites veterans who already have civilian work experience, men and women who are transitioning from active duty to civilian life, members of the National Guard and reserves, military spouses, and other military family members to attend. In the first 11 months of the initiative, Hiring Our Heroes hosted more than 100 events in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The Chamber plans 400 events this year.
“This is an especially great year to hire veterans – new tax credits for doing so apply throughout the year,” said Larry Slagel, Senior Vice President of Sales at RecruitMilitary and a former captain in the United States Marine Corps. “The credits are available via the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (www.doleta.gov/business/incentives/opptax/), which President Obama signed into law on November 21, 2011. The credits range from $2,400 to $9,600, depending on whether the veteran has a disability and how long he or she has been unemployed – and they apply to individuals who begin to work for an employer from November 22, 2011, through December 31, 2012.”
“This is an especially great year to hire veterans – new tax credits for doing so apply throughout the year.”
At the Minneapolis event I attended, there were some 55 employers represented from companies such as US Bank, Prudential, Ameriprise, Allianz and CH Robinson.
There were 393 attendees, including:
- 200 Soldiers
- 67 Sailors
- 53 Airmen
- 52 Marines
- 12 Spouses
- 7 Others
- 2 Department of Defense Civilians
One of those in attendance was former 1st Lt. Ryan Fargen, who until just a few weeks ago, was a member of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard.
He volunteered for deployment overseas, thought he was on his way, and then recently learned he would not be needed. So with a freshly shorn head, he is now in need of a job – and a career.
“I graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in psychology, and figured I would be heading to grad school,” said the polite and affable young man. “But I was in ROTC, and it seemed like there were some good opportunities in the National Guard. I also liked the aspect of being able to serve my country, so that’s the direction I went. I received some great training and organizational experience, and I came to this event looking to see how my military background translates and to test the waters and make some contacts.”
John Lundberg, a spokesperson for RecruitMilitary, said, “Just about everyone who comes here will get one or two interviews out of it, and a third of those who attend will actually find a job.”
I spoke to another National Guard member, Spec. Richard Tavarez, who already has a job. He was in uniform, working the other side of the table, extolling the virtues of his civilian employer, Bremer Bank, where he works in residential lending when he’s not serving as a combat medic.
“Like lots of people in uniform, I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve my country. I have five kids and the National Guard has been very good to my family. Bremer Bank has also been super understanding as an employer, and if I have to deploy, it’s no questions asked, they just say ‘see you when you get back.’”
Tavarez says the Army has given him leadership skills, patience and that he is very calm under pressure, all good things for example when he is helping people through a stressful experience such as buying their first house.
He was a little mystified however that more military, or former military members, weren’t at the event. He says the place should have been packed.
“Anyone who serves develops some solid skills that can translate to the civilian sector. And the military offers transition training and then there are events such as this that help. But nobody hands you a job and it still comes down to individual initiative. A military career is challenging, and finding work as a veteran in a tough economy is challenging too. You need initiative to succeed on both fronts.”