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Veterans May Face Private Sector Obstacle Course in Job Search

In the battle to help workers land jobs that are worthy of their skills and experience, advocates for the nation’s military veterans face a special challenge.

Despite the fact that veterans often are proven leaders with a sound understanding of technology, many find themselves underemployed when they begin private-sector careers, said Greg Ingles, founder, chairman and CEO of PeoplePower LLC, a personnel and staffing business.

Attempting to find a good civilian job can be a discouraging experience for high achievers who leave the military, said Ingles, a Navy veteran. He speaks from experience.

“Private industry in most cases starts them out at ground zero,” he said. “When I retired out of Miramar, I was commanding officer of a fighter squadron. I was running a major organization. When I came out, the best job I could get was as a consultant.”

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Veteran Placement Is a Priority

Although his company doesn’t work exclusively with former military personnel, the San Diego firm has made the placement of veterans a priority.

“My focus is on placing veterans who have served in Iraq or in Afghanistan, disabled and not disabled people who are looking for a job,” Ingles said. “I reach out to companies. I make them aware that there is a great talent base, particularly now that we are downsizing our forces.”

Job placement “often comes down to us forming relationships with presidents of companies and saying, ‘Hey give this guy or lady a shot,’” he explained. “Once you get one in and they do a great job, that opens the door. That is what we are trying to do.”

Ingles advises veterans to resist the temptation to simply give up when jobs are hard to find. It doesn’t matter if they get turned down for 49 jobs if the 50th offer comes through. The key, he said, is to be flexible. The great job a veteran finally finds may not be anything like the one he or she envisioned.

Networking Is the Key

“You have to get out there and network,” he said. “When it comes to finding a job, for every ‘no’ you get closer to a ‘yes.’ If you are not getting any bites, you need to think about redoing your pitch. These people are so qualified and so eager to do a good job. A lot of these young men and women have a great attitude for accomplishing the mission. That transfers over into industry.”

Phil Landis, president and CEO of the nonprofit Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD), agrees that placing veterans in jobs can be a challenge. Each year his program provides a variety of services to military veterans. Part of its multifaceted mission is job placement.

“This is an enormously difficult period in our history for veteran job placement,” Landis said. “It is a tough market. After a period of time, folks run out of money and get into other difficulties and can’t pay their bills. Perhaps depression sets in. Some find themselves at our front door seeking assistance.”

Among several VVSD efforts is the Veterans Employment-Related Assistance Program, funded by the California Employment Development Department. It helps service members assess their career options.

Recently, there have been hopeful signs that the nation’s veterans are making progress in the civilian workplace. The federal government reported that the veteran unemployment rate in April 2013 was 6.2 percent, a drop from the 7.1 percent of veterans who were unemployed one year earlier. For veterans who served following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the unemployment rate dropped from 9.2 percent in March of 2013 to 7.5 percent in April.

Veterans Are Adaptable

Executives sometimes mistakenly believe that military skills aren’t transferrable to the private sector, Ingles said. They don’t always realize that military training prepares people for a lifetime of learning.

The initial training that military personnel receive often is followed by years of specialized instruction, he stressed. No matter what their branch, military personnel are accustomed to fast-paced change.

“The level of training a person goes through to be operational in a combat zone is intensive,” said Ingles. “Everyone thinks you just go to boot camp, you qualify with a rifle and you are ready to go. That is not the way it is.”

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