A homeless U.S. military veteran stands in line for free winter clothing at a ‘Stand Down’ event hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Organizers say the homeless veteran population has surged in recent years along with the high unemployment rate. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.
This Veterans Day, an estimated 12.1 percent of the 1.98 million Gulf-Era II veterans (those who’ve served at any time since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) are unemployed — more than three percent higher than the national average. For younger vets aged 18 to 34, a whopping 16.6 percent are unemployed. In response, the Obama administration rolled out three new initiatives this week to try and help some of these former service members find a job.
We look more at those measures in a segment on Friday’s program (and on our Politics page), but we wanted to take a look at another initiative for unemployed vets: a new jobs search tool from the military’s National Resource Directory.
“We developed this job bank to enable veterans and employers to connect,” said John R. Campbell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy. “This consolidates all the federal jobs in one place, and also includes a number of private sector companies.”
Powered by a custom Google search engine, it crawls the web for job openings tagged as ‘veteran-committed’, meaning the employer would like to fill the spot with a vet. It launched Monday with over 500,000 open job listings, according to a White House blog post by Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra.
One of the difficulties service members face when transitioning into civilian employment is how to translate their military experience into related, non-military skills. Many pointed to this “language” barrier as one of the reasons veteran unemployment is so high. The Veterans Jobs Bank attempts to make that translation easier by automatically converting the veterans’ occupation code into related and marketable civilian skills.
“We have to create tools for the private sector so they know how to read a resume that’s different than the civilian experience. We’ve got to do a better job at explaining exactly what their capabilities are,” Campbell said. “The decision making process, the problem solving processes, leadership skills, they’re all better because that’s how they survived.”
Some are not excited by the tool. On our Facebook page, one asked, “What good is a search engine? They already exist and are highly effective. We don’t need another government funded and poorly managed program.” And a commenter on an ABCNews article on the jobs bank wrote, “How nice. Is [President Obama] going to unveil a jobs program for the rest of us (apparently) third class citizens or will he just keep pretending we don’t exist?”
“I certainly understand the frustration of anyone who’s unemployed in this economy and the frustration that this might seem to give veterans the upper hand,” said Carrie Weletz, an attorney at veteran-issue specific law office Bergmann and Moore. “But since the unemployment rate is higher [for these vets], we honestly have to do something. They are employable. This is a step in the right direction.”
Along with the main site, the NRD has an embeddable widget of the job bank, which you can interact with below, so that the job search engine is accessible on various sites.
“Aneesh Chopra wanted people to be able to access this not just on the NRD website, because vets may have different sites that they go to, like veteran association sites,” Christina Chen, production manager of Google custom search engines, told us. “They should be able to access this anywhere.”
However, Weletz is concerned those that need it most might not be able to access it. “There are a huge number of veterans other than the post-9/11 vets. Some Vietnam era veterans are still looking for work. And some are getting close to retirement, and might not have worked enough years to get retirement benefits. Some older veterans we deal with are not internet savvy. So there might be a big learning curve on how to use this system.”
But as more and more troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, any assistance towards finding a job could be a relief.
“I was contacted by an army mom saying that this will make a difference in her son’s life,” Chen said. “She said he was in the military now and will be getting out in a few years. Sometimes we get into the bits and bytes, so it’s great knowing that we’re directly impacting people in real life.”
Editor’s Note: Given the Veteran’s Day holiday, we thought we’d re-post one of our favorite vet stories from earlier this year: A Young Vet and His Dog.