Many vets land jobs, but the transition can be difficult

Phillip Slaughter left the army after 18 years and found a job similar to the one he had in uniform: behind the wheel of a truck. Instead of towing food and bullets through war zones, he hauled packages for FedEx.

It wasn’t what he wanted to do. The work made his post-traumatic stress disorder worse. It would take him three years and several jobs before he landed his ideal position as a sourcing recruiter for a technology company.

“I think this is the first job I’ve worked 10 straight months without quitting,” said Slaughter, 41, who lives in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Slaughter is a US Army veteran who has found a job he loves at a time when the country is experiencing one of the lowest monthly unemployment rates for veterans on record. But the rate — 2.7% in October — may mask the difficulty of a transition that sometimes takes years of working unsatisfying jobs while forging a new identity and purpose beyond serving one’s country.

“Even though (veteran unemployment) is low, I’m interested to see a survey of how many people are happy in the position they’re in,” said Slaughter, who also runs his own veterans consulting firm. other veterinarians.

Veterans make up about 7% of the civilian population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their unemployment rate can help gauge the country’s efforts to help ex-servicemen, experts say. It can also reflect on the military and how it prepares personnel for departure. High veteran unemployment is not good for recruiting.

This Veterans Day, a handful of military veterans spoke about their experiences finding jobs at a time when the unemployment rate for veterans is so low. For some it was easy, but others struggled.

Pierson Gest, a former Army infantryman, landed his first post-military job in August as a hydroelectric systems designer in California.

Gest joined during the Great Recession, knowing he would eventually go to school with the GI Bill. Starting college in 2017 was difficult at first as he developed study habits. But he picked up the slack and graduated with an engineering degree in June.

“I was lucky to negotiate a six-figure salary,” said Gest, 37, who lives outside of San Francisco. “And I definitely used and leveraged my experience in the military to negotiate that salary on top of my college degree.”

All over Florida, Thomas Holmes is still looking for his perfect job.

Holmes, 46, left the Air Force in 2012 after 17 years, during which he serviced parachute systems for different types of aircraft, from F-15 fighter jets to U-2 spy planes .

He said the only full-time job he had, in the billing and claims department of a warehouse office, was toxic. He resigned after about 18 months.

Holmes used the GI Bill to earn three degrees, including a master’s degree in sports management. He found part-time work in the industry, but rising gas prices and the lure of more regular hours prompted him to work at a nearby UPS store.

“I applied for a lot of jobs — county jobs, state jobs, all kinds of things,” said Holmes, who lives outside of Tampa. “And then all I get is, ‘Well, thank you for your service.'”

Jayla Hair’s transition from Navy to civilian paralegal was not easy, despite a bachelor’s degree in the field and skills that seem transferable.

Hair, 30, said he applied for around 300 jobs in eight months. After enlisting help from a Navy program and friends, Hair reviewed her resume and job interviews eventually showed up. But potential employers cited his lack of experience with state laws and civil courts.

Hair has taken on temp legal jobs and recently landed a full-time position as a paralegal for a Fortune 500 company in the Chicago area.

“Just having my military background wasn’t enough,” said Hair, who plans to pursue a law degree in the future. “If it weren’t for me having these temp jobs to build my civilian resume, I don’t know where I would be right now.”

Hair landed his job at a time when veteran unemployment was largely down. The annual unemployment rate for veterans has fallen steadily, from 8.7% in 2010 to 3.1% in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, after a spike fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, the annual rate was 4.4%. But the seasonally adjusted monthly percentage in March was 2.4, hailed by President Joe Biden as tied for the lowest rate on record. August also reached this mark.

The tight job market and demand for workers after the coronavirus pandemic is likely one of the factors behind low veteran unemployment rates, said Jeffrey B. Wenger, senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp. But so are the significant efforts of the US military in recent years. , the Department of Veterans Affairs, and veterans service organizations to provide assistance to outgoing service members.

Training such as resume writing is now mandatory, and corporate America has launched initiatives to hire hundreds of thousands of vets.

Many of these companies were born out of the Great Recession and the abundance of stressed service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, which “brought the veteran jobs crisis to a head,” Wenger said.

“And over the last 10 to 15 years, people have invested more and more resources and more and more dedicated to solving this problem,” Wenger said.

Among them is Transition Overwatch, a company that runs career learning programs across the country. CEO Sean Ofeldt said the company is focused on what serving service members want to do as civilians, not what they do or what skills they learned in the military.

“A lot of military people don’t want to keep doing what they’ve been doing,” said Ofeldt, a former Navy SEAL. “We train them while they’re still on active duty, then launch them into a real career with all the support they need for the first 12 months.”

But the formula for supporting veterans must encompass more than just employment. It must also focus on social challenges, said Karl Hamner, professor of education at the University of Alabama.

Veterans may feel isolated after losing their tribe of fellow soldiers. Hamner said new data indicates the loss may be particularly acute for women, as they have formed strong bonds with each other as they navigated a male-dominated army.

In a soon-to-be-released national survey of 4,700 female veterans, conducted by Hamner and colleagues, 70 percent said adjusting to civilian life was difficult; 71% said they needed more time to figure out what they wanted to do.

“They had to prove themselves in a valued and highly valued profession,” Hamner said. “And now they’re trying to figure out what it means to be a civilian woman again and dealing with all the standard discriminatory stuff.”

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