Veterans and the Great Information Shortfall
By Neal Urwitz
If the recent government shutdown has taught us anything, it’s that pressing issues aren’t going to be solved with money any time soon. Any attempt to expand the budget – no matter how effective or how great the moral obligation – is going to be met with firm opposition.
Yet there are many issues that seem – at first glance – unsolvable without more money. At the top of the list is the veterans’ crisis. As two wars wind down and the Armed Services make the conscious decision to shrink the size of the force, we are going to see hundreds of thousands of new veterans join the hundreds of thousands already in the civilian population. They face an acute employment crisis that, coupled with medical problems, puts their futures in doubt.
That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: When it comes to veterans’ unemployment, we don’t face a “veterans” crisis. We face a communications crisis – and we can solve it by getting more veterans and employers access to the right information. That solution is one our country can afford.
How do you solve a communications crisis? To start, let’s look at the fundamental problems facing veterans, at least from an employment standpoint. Again at first glance, it would appear veterans are in real trouble. Recent veterans face an unemployment rate well above the national average. But there are only a few elements really driving the problem:
- Employers do not understand what veterans bring to the table. Best case scenario, they think hiring a veteran is an act of charity. Worst case scenario, they are afraid to hire someone they fear could be dangerous or grappling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Veterans do not know how to communicate their skill set to prospective employers. They are far too likely to say they were a Private-Second Class. They are less likely to say they were in charge of a military reconstruction project in Fallujah, where they managed a $20 million budget in combat conditions. Guess which one is more interesting to employers.
- Veterans do not know where the jobs are, either geographically or by industry. A veteran with experience in computer programming should not be looking for a construction job in Ohio when there are tens of thousands of cyber-security positions available at companies in Texas. Yet veterans often seek jobs well outside their specialties and outside employment hot spots.
- Veterans looking to earn their college degrees do not know what they should look for in a college. To be fair, they are hardly alone – millions of non-veteran students go to school with little regard to graduation rates, employment prospects, or time to completion. Still, these problems are particularly acute among the veteran population.
There are other issues that communications cannot address – most notably, credentialing requirements which force veterans to take long, expensive courses in subjects that already know – but the problems above are the most acute. And to solve them, the answer lies in getting the right messengers to deliver the right messages to the right audiences using the right techniques.
For the most part, we know the audiences:
- Young Veterans
- College and Career Advisors
And we also know the right messages:
- For employers, we need to impart that hiring a veteran is not charity, but rather an investment in someone with extensive teamwork experience, who has undertaken practical projects, under conditions that make the stress in any civilian office look tame. Further, we need to let employers know that hiring a veteran does not mean hiring someone with severe emotional distress – contrary to the picture painted by so many well-intentioned journalists and advocates, the large majority of veterans do not have PTSD.
For veterans, we need to deliver three core messages:
- When enrolling in college, ask the important questions. There are thousands of colleges out there, you can find one that answers the most important questions correctly.
- When applying for job, think about how your experience is relevant to the employer. What does the employer care about? Speak to that on your resume and during your interview.
- When looking for jobs, take an honest look at what you’re good at. Identify where in the country those jobs exist, and be willing to move.
Money isn’t the only thing that talks. The sooner those of us seeking to help our veterans better acclimate to civilian life start talking, the better.
Neal Urwitz is a Director at LEVICK. He is also a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.