National Guard August 2011 : Page 56

Shutterstock (2) Gua r d un em p loyme nt i s a s ha r d t o quantif y a s it i s t o sol v e , but o ffi c ia ls a re f oc u se d o n b o th By Andrew Waldman HEN THE WASHINGTON Army National Guard’s 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team deployed to Iraq in 2008, a series of tremors were begin-ning to rock the U.S. economy. The housing bubble was about to burst. Banks were teetering. Stocks were tumbling. And companies were scaling back budgets and laying off employees. Many deploying troops who would otherwise have been unemployed were on active duty. Tom Riggs, the transition coordina-tor for the Washington Guard, under-stood that many soldiers would need W help when they returned home. “We knew that we would have a pretty high unemployment rate when they came back,” says Riggs. He was right. A survey found that nearly 800 of the 81st’s almost 3,000 members would be out of work once they re-turned from deployment. Luckily, Riggs and his staff had started planning early. Today, because of the state’s programs to help Guard members fi nd civilian employment, the unemployment rate for Washing-ton Guardsmen is below the state’s general unemployment rate. Washington’s success is a beacon for the many states and territories that are struggling with high unemploy-ment in their ranks. Make no mistake, unemployment is a problem for the Guard. And it’s more than just about quality of life, says Maj. Gen. Raymond W . Carpenter, the acting director of the Army Guard. “There are three ingredients that make this National Guard work: fi rst, the soldier, then the family and an employer,” says Carpenter. “If you have a Guardsman who doesn’t have an employer, he or she is not going to be able to sustain themselves in that unit ... and they are going to go do something diff erent. 56 | Na tional Guard

Help Wanted

Andrew Waldman

Guard unemployment is as hard to quantify as it is to solve, but officials are focused on both<br /> <br /> HEN THE WASHINGTON Army National Guard's 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team deployed to Iraq in 2008, a series of tremors were beginning to rock the U.S. economy.<br /> <br /> The housing bubble was about to burst. Banks were teetering. Stocks were tumbling. And companies were scaling back budgets and laying off employees.<br /> <br /> Many deploying troops who would otherwise have been unemployed were on active duty.<br /> <br /> Tom Riggs, the transition coordinator for the Washington Guard, understood that many soldiers would need help when they returned home.<br /> <br /> "We knew that we would have a pretty high unemployment rate when they came back," says Riggs.<br /> <br /> He was right.<br /> <br /> A survey found that nearly 800 of the 81st's almost 3,000 members would be out of work once they returned from deployment.<br /> <br /> Luckily, Riggs and his staff had started planning early. Today, because of the state's programs to help Guard members find civilian employment, the unemployment rate for Washington Guardsmen is below the state's general unemployment rate.<br /> <br /> Washington's success is a beacon for the many states and territories that are struggling with high unemployment in their ranks.<br /> <br /> Make no mistake, unemployment is a problem for the Guard. And it's more than just about quality of life, says Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter, the acting director of the Army Guard.<br /> <br /> "There are three ingredients that make this National Guard work: first, the soldier, then the family and an employer," says Carpenter. "If you have a Guardsman who doesn't have an employer, he or she is not going to be able to sustain themselves in that unit ... and they are going to go do something different.<br /> <br /> "We will lose that soldier, we'll lose the skills that he or she brings, and we're going to be poorer as an organization."<br /> <br /> In response to persistent unemployment across the country, the Army Guard recently stood up an office at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Va., focused on helping part-time soldiers find full-time civilian work.<br /> <br /> It's a big job.<br /> <br /> Maj. Pam Ellison, the chief of the employment and education outreach branch for the Army Guard, says unemployment across the force is running about 2.5 percentage points above the general unemployment, which nationally is about 9.2 percent.<br /> <br /> But other organizations that track unemployment believe the rate is significantly higher, especially for younger Guardsmen. Their estimates are closer to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report that pegged veteran unemployment at 20 percent for those aged 20 to 24, the most economically vulnerable group in this recession.<br /> <br /> Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of concrete data available to accurately measure how many Guardsmen are without civilian employment, and Ellison is the first to admit it. But she says the Defense Department is trying to get a better fix on the issue.<br /> <br /> One factor that complicates any quantification of the problem is the number of Guardsmen on temporary active-duty orders. The Active Duty Operational Support program enables the Guard to augment full-time staff s by bringing in part-time troops for up to six months.<br /> <br /> As of June 30, the Army Guard had 13,630 soldiers on some type of Title 10 ADOS orders, according to the National Guard Bureau. Many of the troops are available for temporary duty only because they are unemployed or underemployed, Riggs says.<br /> <br /> Volunteering for deployments is another indication of the problem that evades the statistics. Ellison says that there is also anecdotal evidence that "many soldiers are staying for two and three rotations" because they don't have a job to go back to.<br /> <br /> This means any cut in ADOS or overseas deployments could result in a spike in the Guard unemployment rate.<br /> <br /> Legislators have started to notice the unemployment issues facing both Guardsmen and separating active-component members returning from combat.<br /> <br /> Several NGAUS-supported bills have been introduced in Congress that would give Guardsmen more time on active duty–with a paycheck–after they come home. These so-called "soft landing" bills would give Guardsmen more time to find a job when they return home.<br /> <br /> Of course, this is only a temporary solution.<br /> <br /> People like Riggs and Ellison are already working on programs to help unemployed Guardsmen. Several notable developments recently, including the creation of Ellison's office, indicate the Guard's attention to the issue.<br /> <br /> Right now, Ellison is working on several programs to help Guardsmen find jobs. Most of these programs mix web-related job hunting with one-on-one job counseling.<br /> <br /> Programs also utilize existing federally funded veteran and military programs, like the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces, a large web-based job board that's available to the entire military.<br /> <br /> "We have to find the right balance between who needs high touch and who needs high tech," says Ellison.<br /> <br /> The "high touch" piece is what Ellison, Riggs and others are developing. Most people may know about online job searching, but without knowledge of how to focus their search and tailor their résumés to each job, the high-tech portions are often useless.<br /> <br /> Ellison is working on several programs that can fuse the two areas of job counseling. One is the Job Connection Education Program, which is the Army Guard's premier employment program being piloted in Texas. Launched in March 2010, the program has already placed 412 people in jobs with hourly starting wages of $18 per hour.<br /> <br /> Essentially, the program has eight job counselors who work individually with job-seeking Guard members. The counselors help them write résumés, practice interviewing techniques and learn to identify appropriate job openings.<br /> <br /> Washington state, which Ellison says is leading the way in employment assistance, has a wide-reaching program set up to help Army and Air Guardsmen.<br /> <br /> Riggs has coordinated multiple state agencies to help match a Guardsman's qualifications with a job. Counselors cover different areas of the state and vans park at various armories during drills to dispense advice.<br /> <br /> In every successful state program, résumé writing is an integral part of the process. And because many Guardsmen have not had to list combat or military experience on their résumés before, there is often some counseling that must be done.<br /> <br /> "A lot of soldiers don't appreciate the skills they have," says Riggs. "It's not uncommon to hear a sergeant who led 40 men in combat say, 'I don't have any skills.'"<br /> <br /> Riggs says counselors help Guardsmen emphasize and explain these valuable job skills.<br /> <br /> In other cases, Guardsmen may not understand how to properly market themselves to a civilian employer.<br /> <br /> Capt. Bryan Zdunowski, who heads both the education and employment programs for the entire Maryland Guard, knows this well. An infantry soldier who brought a résumé to Zdunowski's office for review had listed one of his duties in the Guard as "destroy the enemy on the battlefield."<br /> <br /> "There are better ways to say what you do without saying it in an infantry way," Zdunowski says. "We have tools that we use to help them translate to help them take the essence of their [military occupational specialty] into civilian-speak."<br /> <br /> Aside from helping massage résumés, many Guard employment programs spend a significant amount of time matching employers with Guardsmen.<br /> <br /> Zdunowski says his counselors build a database of employers and only contact them when they identify a Guardsman who might be a fit.<br /> <br /> "We make sure the soldier or veteran is the best pick for that employer," he says.<br /> <br /> Making sure that those employers receive well-qualified employees is key to building relationships that the program can fall back on in the future. That's one lesson that Ellison says is being incorporated into the national employment program being developed in her office.<br /> <br /> There is also a Guard Apprenticeship Program Initiative, which transfers military experience to applicable apprenticeship programs across the nation.<br /> <br /> So far, 105 military occupations are recognized on the national level and can transfer to apprenticeships.<br /> <br /> Members in both houses of Congress have proposed various bills that would help Guard members in their transition from active duty to employment.<br /> <br /> The most recent, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, would require all service members coming off active duty to participate in the Defense Department's Transition Assistance Program, which provides help with résumé writing, interview skills and job research.<br /> <br /> The bill is sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is also the chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.<br /> <br /> "For the first time, this comprehensive bill will require service members to learn how to translate the skills they learned in the military into the working world," she said in a release.<br /> <br /> But Guardsmen who are in between the financially lucrative deployments their units are making every few years also must be taught to understand how important building a civilian career can be.<br /> <br /> And someday, as Riggs notes, there may not be deployment cycles that can help bolster Guard employment.<br /> <br /> "We . . . have a lot of kids in entry-level positions who can go on active duty and make more money and they'll want to do that," he says.<br /> <br /> But he adds that going on deployment after deployment hinders a Guardsman's civilian career.<br /> <br /> One year on deployment represents one year that Guardsman falls behind in the promotion ladder at his or her civilian job.<br /> <br /> And with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan due to wind down in the next few years, civilian employment will be more important than ever.<br /> <br /> Riggs says, "This is one of the silliest sounding clichés, but it's true: One of these days there won't be a war to go to."<br /> <br /> Andrew Waldman can be reached at (202) 408-5892 or andrew.waldman@ngaus.org.<br /> <br /> Guard unemployment is more than just a quality-of-life issue, say Guard leaders. It's also about readiness.<br /> <br /> "A lot of soldiers don't appreciate the skills they have."<br /> <br /> –Tom Riggs<br /> <br /> Transition coordinator, Washington National Guard<br /> <br /> NGAUS ACTION<br /> <br /> In addition to supporting the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, NGAUS strongly supports the Hire a Hero Act of 2011 (S. 367 and H.R. 743, in the Senate and House, respectively), which would allow small business employers to claim the work opportunity credit for hiring Guardsmen. The association is also seeking legislation that would allow employers to pay TRICARE Reserve Select premiums of Guard and Reservists with pre-tax dollars. This would make them attractive as potential hires who can be insured less expensively than under an employer-funded health plan. <br />

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