Employment Rate For Veterans Lags
Although military veterans have a variety of programs they can access to help them join the civilian workforce, the unemployment rate among recently returned vets has consistently been higher than it is among nonveterans.
The last job veteran Mark Spicer had was working for the Department of Defense as a civilian in Afghanistan. That was after doing two tours in Iraq as a Marine tank officer. While tationed overseas in 2011, he knew the U.S. economy was going downhill, but hoped his college degree, experiences, and military skill set would be enough to land a job.
“I felt that I would jump back into the workforce with relative ease,” Spicer said. “I understood, and was willing to take a dramatic pay cut and things of that nature, but I didn't see it lasting this long. I figured at the most it would be six months.”
Instead it’s been 15 months and counting. Spicer’s plan was to attend graduate school in the evenings and work during the day. But now, while he is pursuing his MBA at night, his days are spent looking for employment. He says he’s done about a hundred phone interviews, 15 in person.
He’s looking for work in operations, logistics or inventory management, things he says are in line with his skills.
“I've operated a lot of complex problems that didn't offer a clear solution,” Spicer said. “In the military you have to be really skilled at utilizing all your assets, from intelligence capabilities, aviation, logistical, resupply. I was on tanks; we drank a thousand gallons of fuel for every day of operations. So when we went out on 12, 15, 17, 20-day missions, it takes a lot of advance planning.”
A recent survey of employers indicates that veterans’ inability to translate their military experience to civilian job skills is the biggest reason employers don’t hire them. But Spicer doesn’t think skills translation is his problem.
He’s gone to veteran job fairs, enlisted the help of several veterans’ service organizations, and conducted practice interviews.
“We’ll sit down, and we'll go through a mock interview thing,” he said. "[They say] well, you interview well, and you're articulate and you can convey your skill sets. I've had recruiters try to nitpick: ‘Well, did you ever tell them ... that you had kids?' They try to pick out the minutia, and I don’t think that’s the underlying issue here.
“The underlying issue here is A) the economy sucks for everybody and B) the economy sucks especially for veterans.”
Spicer has his own ideas why.
“I think that there's a lot of negative attributes out there that are buried beneath the surface,” he said. “Where on top you have everyone waving the red, white and blue and wearing yellow ribbons. And then, underneath it, it’s like, ‘Well, I'll push the hiring problem onto someone else.’”
Research indicates one reason that employers hesitate to hire vets is because of negative stereotypes. Spicer gets the impression a lot of people believe veterans are mentally unstable, prone to violence, or not as smart as the rest of the population.
He says potential employers have seemed preoccupied with the possibility that he might have post-traumatic stress disorder. One interviewer asked if he was a changed person coming back from the military.
“My answer was, point blank, ‘Absolutely, it was part of my life for 10 years, and I love it, and I'll go to the grave with it…” He then waxed on about how the military had impacted his life.
“The interviewer was like, ‘No, was it more that you are having flashbacks? he said, laughing at the memory. “I'm like, ‘No.’ I kind of chuckled, because I thought she was joking, but, no, she wasn't. She was pretty serious.”
Spicer knows he’s better off than a lot of returning veterans. He’s not struggling with any disabling health issues. He is educated. The GI Bill money he collects, combined with savings and his girlfriend’s income, are helping them stay afloat. He says he doesn’t feel entitled to a job, he just doesn’t want his service to be a barrier to getting one.