Paying more than lip service to veterans’ employment

Let’s talk about employment for veterans. It’s a hot-button issue, with everyone from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the White House urging corporate America to hire veterans. Laws exist requiring companies that do business with the U.S. government to actively pursue and recruit veterans. But does it actually happen? Not as often as I’d like.

Easter Seals is a leading provider of workforce development for veterans. They offer vets the direct services and solutions that are desperately needed. It’s one reason I joined the Easter Seals team and co-founded Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Community Services. Together, we’re able to advise major corporations, businesses, trade organizations, government and philanthropic entities on how to put theory into practice based not on the best practices of others, but rather looking at the conditions and resources of the specific organization.

Consider the trucking industry. The average age of a truck driver is high and it’s not getting any younger. Right now, more than 500,000 drivers are needed across the United States. But state licensing requirements can be restrictive, favoring private-sector experience. Yet we have thousands of young men and women who are driving heavy-duty armored vehicles across hundreds of miles every day in combat conditions. This experience ought to count for something, but so often it doesn’t.

So I jumped at the chance to help when the Teamsters asked me for my assistance in helping vets. I proposed pooling resources at the state level to better enhance their existing training to help turn real-life experience overseas into family-wage jobs. The Teamsters did a state-by-state comparative analysis of commercial truck driver’s licensing and Department of Defense training, and this will allow employers and the states to better understand how, with some legislative changes, they can help returning vets get their trucking licenses by recognizing their credentials from time served in war zones. Through this Teamsters effort, policy change is taking place and targeted training has been developed for veterans throughout the country.

This Dixon Center and Teamsters partnership is now developing mobile training efforts on military installations throughout the country to provide certified civilian licenses before transitioning from the military. We really need help in Arkansas, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Tennessee — the top five states with the highest rates of unemployment for veterans returning from active duty, Guardsmen and Reservists. Every industry — not just trucking — needs to put resources on the table. As another example, Dixon Center is assisting the Utility Workers of America by assessing support organizations to enhance opportunities for skilled military veterans going into the gas and electrical utility sector.

It comes down to this: if you’re an employer, recognize that veterans come with real-life skills. Don’t just focus on academic degrees. Also, understand that employment goes beyond recruiting. It has to include training, integrating and retaining the veterans as well as their families. If you’re a state, reassess the credentialing and licensing restriction that don’t take into account the already existing skills of our service members and make the appropriate changes. Taking simple actions will make a positive difference for our veterans, and for your organization too.


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