Veterans face challenges entering the workforce

LIHU‘E — Veteran and civilian job seekers alike are deserving of programs to support their search for gainful employment, but in tough times, jobs counselors are saying that preparation weighs most in getting an edge over the competition.

Upon completion of service, veterans are entitled to five years of health care, family support centers and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Some aren’t aware, however, that they can also receive case management, vocational guidance, institutional and on-the-job training, job search assistance, career assessments and counseling.

“Prepare yourself for a successful job search with the help of individual career counseling,” said Eric Nordmeier, the veterans outreach program counselor at the Workforce Development Division office in Lihu‘e. He recommends job seekers register online at HireNet Hawai‘i (www.hirenethawaii.com) to browse hundreds of jobs statewide, complete online applications and upload resumes.

“Get registered to be listed on our resume bank,” he added.

The Workforce Center offers career information and links to resources and training programs to help prepare for the interview process. The business center, computers, copy and fax machines are also available for job search related use.

The resume and cover letter are the door openers that present both knowledge and understanding of the position, said Nordmeier. He said to avoid sending a generic, one-size-fits-all resume, and make time to tailor it for each application to emphasize what you bring and how you would do the job.

“That type of effort resonates with an employer,” he added.

The more savvy an applicant is the more they can do to reduce the time it takes to complete an online application. Having resumes and support files and a scanned DD-214 discharge paper to readily attach to applications can reduce the tedium and allow more time and energy on tailoring cover letters.

The little things matter too. Nordmeier said that when filling out an application at an office, to expect that someone is going to write down how quickly and accurately it was completed as part of the application process.

Some veterans are “base qualified” in a particular field, whether its electronics, avionics or administration. These particular skills may not translate precisely to the civilian level that they were operating at in the military, said Nordmeier. The technological curve sometimes makes a particular military skill outmoded when seeking related work in the defense industry.

“Just because you doing something doesn’t mean it will automatically translate to an occupation,” he said.

The Veterans Administration has set up the Veterans Employment Coordination Service at www.va.gov/vecs. It offers many work related links and guidance on job searching. There is also links to federal and national job search sites. The Veterans Preference form, SF-15 is available online at www.opm.gov/forms/html/sf.asp.

Nordmeier said veterans have experience working in stressful situations and present a work ethic that employers value. Rather than invoke a sense of privilege that comes with veterans preference, he said it is more beneficial to focus on finding the job they want and taking the steps to prepare or work your way up to that position.

Veterans, he said, just as other industries, are looking for work after years of gainful employment. Accustomed to high wages and large benefits packages, they want to wait it out until a similar job comes along.

Nordmeier said job seekers need to be flexible and willing to make sacrifices, which is sometimes pay and benefits, or taking a job they would not normally pursue if they think it will lead to more fulfilling or better paying work.

When a profession or skill is outmoded many are returning to school or upgrading their skills and ratings to cross over to a new or related field with jobs available.

Nordmeier said that cognitive skills develop from retaining knowledge over time, and that it is up to the applicant to demonstrate that they understand a new position and how they would use their own experience to accomplish the new job.

Romy Castillo, a team leader at the Lihu‘e VA Vet Center, said high unemployment is making it tough for everyone. Veterans can plan ahead by using benefits to re-tool for better jobs that will be there at the end of the downturn.

National Guard and Reserve service members that served active duty tours in the Middle East, have the stability of stepping back into their old jobs. Full-time active service members are looking to restart their lives after long overseas tours.

Castillo encourages veterans to be versatile and flexible and think long term when planning a career goal. Counselors can help identify skills, interests and match that with schooling and the employment outlook.

For veterans that have only have the military as their experience, the civilian work environment can be quite a shock. Some make the adjustment and transfer their work and leadership skills to any working environment. Others, however, have different expectations and have difficulty adjusting.

“I haven’t seen many issues that are very different from the regular population, except for those that have some readjustment issues, and those are primarily with transitioning back and dealing with anger, family issues and for some PTSD,” said Castillo. “We try to get them some education on that.”

Castillo said the Vet Center works with people on problem areas that can result in unemployment and create barriers to new jobs. It may be as simple as teaching how to get along with civilian coworkers and reducing job related stress. Other times they work with a veteran who was referred after being let go from a job.

The Center staff listen and try to work out the work related problem from something that was triggered from war related trauma or something else in their background. “They have a shorter fuse, and are more irritable,” he said.  “We try to help them with that.”

The counseling is one-on-one or group depending on the comfort level. It can also include families.

Some veterans get frustrated with trying to find work they like or can earn a living with, and decide to return to the military, where prior service personnel have fewer benefits and opportunities. Castillo says that veterans return to the service more often for financial stability and not about readjustment issues. He wants them to know all of the options before making that decision.

The most serious cases are the homeless veterans. Oftentimes substance abuse is a common underlying problem to veterans in crisis and eventually addiction will become the problem in itself, he added.

When one reaches out Castillo says they are referred to Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity, where they get vouchers for public housing through a veterans homeless program with VA and HUD case managers.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or by emailing tlaventure@ thegardenisland.com.

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