It is no secret that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are having trouble adjusting to the current employment climate. In many cases, it is not so much a question of a skills shortage on the part of returning soldiers as it is a shortcoming of an employment landscape ill-equipped to digest the wide array of skills that military service members offer.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, veterans between the ages of 22 and 25 are witnessing unemployment at a rate of 11 percent, nearly three points above the recently calculated national average (this national number is being disputed). Luckily, there are men like Ray Sizer, a former Navy veteran and owner of Levittown-based National Energy Solutions. He has gone out of his way to hire veterans both for the experience they bring to the workplace and because, as he puts it, “It’s just a good thing to do.”
Sizer’s company, which installs energy-efficient commercial lighting structures, currently counts veterans as one fourth of its workforce (3-in-12) with three more returning service members in the pipeline.
“They have already a lot of training for what we’re looking for,” Sizer said. Veterans are also usually well-groomed and used to travel, and, he said, they have clean security backgrounds that make easier arranging their access to security-sensitive job sites such as government facilities, rail yards, and airports. Their immersion in following a chain-of-command structure also helps in dealing with corporate America, Sizer added.
They also have skills essential to the life-on-the-road work that is required of NESI’s installation crews, Antonelli said: “Vets are used to shacking up” with roommates.
The NESI partners have had one unanticipated problem in their quest to hire veterans: finding them.
“I thought it would be easy,” Sizer said. “It’s time-consuming.”
Other companies in Pennsylvania are reaching out to veterans because they tend to be very disciplined employees.
At Conshohocken-based Allied Barton Security Services, 325 military veterans and reservists have been hired since October 2010 through the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces. Underwritten by the Army Reserve, the program offers a career portal at www.employerpartnership.org and is free for employers and service members. “For many years, we’ve been looking at veterans recruiting, but not really with a fever that we’ve done lately,” said Jerold Ramos, Allied’s manager for talent acquisition. “They come disciplined, they understand discipline, they understand commitment. Those are really important that we look for and use in our service.”
These individual efforts, coupled with institutional initiatives from the Obama administration and the union-funded Helmets to Hardhats program, are having an impact, no doubt. But with the Afghanistan troop draw down in place the need for concerted veteran hiring is only going to grow. 2011 was an abysmal year with veteran unemployment rising above 12 percent.