National Guard December 2011 : Page 24

Fighting for Work By Ron Jensen iStock Some Guardsmen in the Heartland have come home from overseas to a job market almost as tough as the mission they left behind WEST DES MOINES, Iowa t’s the first week of November and autumn has successfully elbowed aside summer and settled upon the freshly harvested cornfields of central iowa. inside a building owned by the University of Phoenix, several Guards-men are finding their personal transi-tions to be somewhat less inevitable and seamless than the annual seasonal change that has shortened the days and chilled the morning air. “We’re used to winning a lot,” says Capt. ryan Loeffelholz, an iowa Army National Guardsman. “in the job search, we’re losing a lot.” Until february, Loeffelholz worked I 24 | National Guard

Fighting For Work

Ron Jensen

Some Guardsmen in the Heartland have come home from overseas to a job market almost as tough as the mission they left behind<br /> <br /> I WEST DES MOINES, Iowa t’s the first week of November and autumn has successfully elbowed aside summer and settled upon the freshly harvested cornfields of central iowa.<br /> <br /> Inside a building owned by the University of Phoenix, several Guardsmen are finding their personal transitions to be somewhat less inevitable and seamless than the annual seasonal change that has shortened the days and chilled the morning air.<br /> <br /> “We’re used to winning a lot,” says Capt. Ryan Loeffelholz, an iowa Army National Guardsman. “in the job search, we’re losing a lot.” <br /> <br /> Until february, Loeffelholz worked With the Iowa Guard counterdrug program. Funding shortfalls put him on the list of the unemployed.<br /> <br /> That’s why he is attending this employment assistance workshop, one of several in the Hawkeye State sponsored by the Iowa Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). He is joined by four other Guardsmen who are looking for work or soon will be and two spouses in search of jobs.<br /> <br /> They will be given tips on how to find a job, from creating a résumé to how to dress for the interview to how to determine if a job offer is the right one for them.<br /> <br /> Loeffelholz, 32, spent eight years with the counterdrug program. He has a deployment to Iraq under his belt, along with more than 14 years in the Guard. He’d like a job in transportation or logistics.<br /> <br /> “I’m batting about one for 10 in getting interviews,” he says with a bit of frustration. “I’m starting to look outside Iowa now. I’d move for a good job.” <br /> <br /> Unemployment for veterans is a highly visible issue these days. President Barack Obama has created programs to address it. Lawmakers have introduced bills to make hiring a veteran more attractive to employers.<br /> <br /> And senior officials in the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have played the patriotism card in calling for employers to hire a vet or a current member of the Guard and Reserve.<br /> <br /> Here’s why: Veterans of the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have a higher unemployment rate than the general population and veterans of other wars, according to a report from the Department of Labor released last month.<br /> <br /> Gulf War II-era veterans had an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent in 2010 and are at 12.1 percent now, compared to about 9 percent across the nation.<br /> <br /> And Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the National Guard Joint Senior Leadership Conference at National Harbor, Md., last month that Guard and Reserve employment earlier this year stood at 13 percent, with the rate for junior enlisted Guardsmen and Reservists at 23 percent.<br /> <br /> All veterans, however, have an unemployment rate lower than that for the general population. The jobless rate for veteran men is 8.8 percent compared to 10.5 percent for men who are not veterans. For veteran women and nonveteran women, the rates are 7.9 and 8.4, respectively, according to the report.<br /> <br /> But it is the current crop of veterans— the ones who, like Loeffelholz and the others at this workshop, have served since 9/11—that has the government’s attention.<br /> <br /> “They are remarkable men and women and shouldn’t have to fight for a job when they come home,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said last month.<br /> <br /> Panetta said, “In the end, the best thing we can do to honor those that have served is to make sure that when they come back, they have some opportunity to be a part of our society and not just wind up on the unemployment rolls.” <br /> <br /> This workshop, which is one of several held over a period of months in Iowa, resulted from a survey of troops in the Iowa Guard’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, that returned from Afghanistan last summer.<br /> <br /> Ray Rodriguez, the program support specialist for Iowa ESGR, says 606 of the 2,400 troops in the survey reported they were going to be unemployed and needed help finding work. That’s how the workshops came about, targeted at areas where the survey found the greatest need.<br /> <br /> He says, “We have Iowa employers that call us all the time saying, ‘I’m looking for a veteran to hire.’” <br /> <br /> Soon after the morning sun struck the classroom windows, Jeff Johnson, a Navy veteran and the veterans representative for Iowa Workforce Development a state department aimed at economic development in Iowa, including employment issues, tells attendees, “I can’t get you a job, but I can sure point you in the right direction.” <br /> <br /> Robert Loter, an Army veteran and the veterans program coordinator for Iowa Workforce Development, describes looking for work as “an art, not a science.”<br /> <br /> For four hours, the two men present a condensed version of TAP, the Transition Assistance Program designed by the Department of Labor that normally takes three days. They are upbeat, but realistic in their assessment of the employment picture.<br /> <br /> “Most employers out there are extremely veteran friendly,” Loter says But, he adds, being a veteran is not enough. The veteran must sell himself or herself as an asset for the company.<br /> <br /> A big portion of the workshop is spent on selling military skills as applicable To civilian work. By virtue of being in the military, service members can follow directions, plan systemically, work under pressure and work in a diverse environment, the attendees are told.<br /> <br /> They point out one fact that shock some in the room. An Army Guard specialist E-4 deployed to the war zones is being paid the equivalent of $23 per hour for a 40-hour week with benefits. The average pay in Iowa is $17.62 per hour.<br /> <br /> “That’s what you’re up against,” Loter says.<br /> <br /> Lt. Col. Troy Weiland and his wife, Julie, are at the workshop together. He is here to get tips on how to look for work after he retires from the Guard he joined 28 years ago. Julie Weiland was let go from a job after 10 years in January.<br /> <br /> “It’s another challenge,” Troy Weiland says. “Like the military taught us—you have to adapt and overcome.”<br /> <br /> FIGHTING FOR WORK<br /> <br /> Spc. Brian Beery, 27, is an unemployed Iowa Guardsman who joined the force in 2007 to pay o student loans. He’s learned one thing during his jobless period.<br /> <br /> “You can’t live o of unemployment [benefits],” he says.<br /> <br /> In his past, he has been a bank teller and a car salesman, but he’s focused now on finding a job that will allow him to continue to work on unmanned aerial vehicles, which is his Guard job and one he did while deployed.<br /> <br /> “I’m not saying I won’t do anything else,” he says.<br /> <br /> Despite all the talk about employers being willing to hire veterans, two Guardsmen at the workshop say in interviews that they feel their Guard service is a red flag for prospective employers.<br /> <br /> “That’s been my experience,” says Pfc. Justin Beery, who has been in the Iowa Guard since 2006. “They think you’re going to get deployed again.” <br /> <br /> He says he gets more attention in the job search if he doesn’t mention his military service.<br /> <br /> Loeffelholz says he has the same concern.<br /> <br /> “I perceive a little bit of a hesitancy [from employers],” he says.<br /> <br /> Employers deluged with applicants are looking for ways to winnow the field, he says, and perhaps service in the Guard with its inherent obligations is one way that’s being done.<br /> <br /> That’s rare, says Shawn Hippen, who is at the workshop to tell attendees about the Job Connection Education Program that provides training and job placement for Iowa Guardsmen.<br /> <br /> “I don’t think it’s as much as people think it is,” he says.<br /> <br /> Employers are aware now of how the Guard operates and with more deployment predictability because of the Army Force Generation process, he says, Guard membership is not Much of a factor.<br /> <br /> When asked about it, Rodriguez points out that it is against the law to not hire someone because they belong to the Guard or Reserve.<br /> <br /> He says, “If somebody has been discriminated against because of their military service, they can contact the ESGR.” <br /> <br /> The organization would provide free negotiation services, he says, adding, “The burden of proof is on the employer.” <br /> <br /> Despite the potential for an employer to look askance at a Guardsman, the scales are being tipped in the favor of those who have military service on their résumé. Several bills in Congress aim to make veterans more attractive as applicants.<br /> <br /> From tax credits for employers who hire unemployed veterans to better training opportunities to awards for businesses that hire veterans, these bills provide a leg up over civilians in the job search competition.<br /> <br /> And workshops like this one in Iowa are being held in other states.<br /> <br /> Plus, the commander in chief backs employment of veterans.<br /> <br /> “Today, more than 850,000 veterans remain unemployed. And too many are struggling to find a job worthy of their talents and experience,” Obama said in a radio address to the nation last month. “That’s not right.” <br /> <br /> The bottom line for veterans is, in the discouraging and frustrating endeavor to find employment in a sluggish market, they have plenty to be optimistic about.<br /> <br /> Sharon Wilkinson, a human resources specialist with SDW Consulting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who attends ESGR workshops in the state, says most human resource personnel know veterans are focused, collaborative, goal oriented and strong leaders.<br /> <br /> “They are just waiting for you to tell them,” she says.<br /> <br /> For the job-hunting Guardsman, then, the key is to be always ready, always there.<br /> <br /> Ron Jensen can be contacted at (202) 408-5885 or at ron.jensen@ngaus.org

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