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Unemployed veterans skilled in doing jobs, not in finding them

A Monster.com survey finds employers and veterans agree: Departing military personnel have civilian job skills. Language, however, is a problem. One hurdle is translating military jargon.

By Mary WiltenburgContributor / May 30, 2012

Krista Titus, coordinator for the Employment Resource Center at the Arizona National Guard Papago base, 5636 E. McDowell Road, prepares to look through some of the more than 1,300 applications of military veterans inside the white folders who are looking for jobs, on May 1.

Mike Sakal/East Valley Tribune/AP

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Veterans today are having a harder time finding jobs than most Americans – but why? They leave the military with sought-after skills. Most are willing to move for the right job. Employers who hire them overwhelmingly say they’re glad they did. 

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So what’s the problem? In April, Monster.com, the world’s largest job-search site, and its subsidiary Military.com, the biggest online resource for current and former service members, surveyed 900 employers and more than 900 returning veterans in an effort to find out. 

Their results, released Wednesday in their second, semiannual Veterans Talent Index (VTI), found that majorities of both veterans and employers feel that men and women are leaving the military well prepared to do civilian jobs, but badly prepared to land them. 

“There’s a communication gap here,” says T.L. McCreary, president of Military.com. “It seems like the veteran and the employer talking past each other, at times.”

One hurdle is learning to speak with less military jargon.

Take the example of a Navy fire controlman, the person who operates a ship’s weapons systems and fires its missiles. On discharge, if he sends a resume full of military acronyms and Tomahawk missiles to a computer or electronics company, he’s unlikely to even get an interview. Translated into civilian language, though, his qualifications could be perfect, since his day-to-day military work was operating, maintaining, and repairing sophisticated microcomputers. Whether the veteran can spell that out could mean the difference between a good job and an unemployment statistic. 

“There’s misunderstanding on both sides of the aisle,” says Jason Hansman, membership director for the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“When less than one percent of the population has served, it’s hard for the other 99 percent to relate to their experience and then be like: ‘Yes, this person can help my bottom line.’ ”

But there’s a great need to bridge that gap – on both sides. Since Sept. 11, 2001, 2.7 million US veterans have served in the military. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, their unemployment rate is 9.2 percent – compared with 7.6 percent of nonveterans – and young workers and women suffer even higher rates. Over a million more Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans are expected to return to civilian life in the next five years. 

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