- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2015

When Carl Vickers left the Air Force in 2005, he prepared his resume detailing his skills learned as an aerospace ground equipment technician to present to prospective employers.

During one interview, he recalled, the man behind the desk read his application and asked him why he chose to leave the military. There was nothing from his experience and training, he was told, that could be of use in the civilian work force.

“I was so shocked and angry,” said Mr. Vickers, speaking at a job fair for wounded veterans and military caregivers organized earlier this month by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Paralyzed Veterans of America. “We have all heard the same things repeated time and again about how valuable our veterans are. We were assured that when we returned home we would have somewhere to go.”

With two major wars winding down and a new generation of ex-servicemen and women re-entering the private sector, Mr. Vickers‘ case is by no means an isolated one. And business groups and the federal government are stepping up their efforts to ease the transition from discharge to profitable employment as a civilian.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday that the jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans in February fell to 6.7 percent, down nearly 5 percentage points since 2011 in the wake of the Great Recession, but markedly higher than the 5.5 percent for the U.S. workforce as a whole. With about 290,000 people transitioning out of the military annually, the need to find jobs for vets is only growing.

Like Mr. Vickers, many veterans struggle to translate their skills they’ve learned in their military training into the workforce. Wounded veterans can face an even more difficult time finding jobs after leaving the military.

The Chamber, the nation’s biggest business lobby, launched Hiring Our Heroes in March 2011, an initiative to help transitioning service members and military spouses find long-term employment. HOH hosts over 800 job fairs throughout the country annually, including one March 4 at the business group’s headquarters a block from the White House. When veterans looking for work register, they list their skills and experiences and are paired with companies at the fair and given pointers on the application process and interviewing. This month, the Chamber announced the launch of the Wounded Veterans and Caregiver Employment and Advisory Council.

“As a recovering warrior and someone who has been very involved in this, I can attest to how securing a fulfilling job is a meaningful and necessary step towards recovery and reintegration,” said retired Lt. Col. Justin Constantine.

The former Marine is one of the lead organizers of the new council. He was shot in the head by an enemy sniper while on a routine combat patrol in Iraq in 2006. The shot destroyed his jaw and much of his face. His recuperation took years of surgery, rehabilitation and care from his now-wife Dahlia. He continues to require periodic surgery, but he has since taken his story on the road to help other wounded veterans and military caregivers.

At the HOH’s job fairs, major corporations such as Bank of America and FedEx have tables set up, alongside smaller companies devoted to helping veterans. They include Dog Tag Inc., which runs Georgetown’s Dog Tag Bakery, which works to foster vets’ entrepreneurial skills in a six-month program for a certificate of business administration from Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies. Veterans help run the bakery, where all proceeds go toward the program.

Participants who complete the program have gone on to create their own small businesses and franchises after working in Dog Tag’s learning lab, where they participate in networking events, workshops on resume-writing and interview skills and sessions on the ins and outs of business ownership.

Despite the prejudice of some civilian employers, Mr. Vickers contends that skills learned in the military can have practical applications in the marketplace.

“Any military skill can be translated into the civilian work force, no matter what they did in service,” he said.

Mr. Vickers now works for PeopleScout, as a recruiter of fellow vets. He works to reach out to veterans and assist them in finding employment by partnering them with companies looking to hire ex-military jobseekers. Through working for PeopleScout, he says, his “life fell into place.”

He has the opportunity to help veterans struggling as he once did to find work after leaving service. One woman he helped worked as a parachute-rigger and believed she could only find a position as a seamstress. But her experience in scheduling maintenance activities for all the equipment used in her department opened the door for many other jobs, Mr. Vickers noted.

“The civilian population makes the mistake of branding all veterans the same,” he said, “The only true similarity is that they have all been through a very similar training process in the U.S. military. This is a process that has been honed to perfection when it comes to reshaping lives.”

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