Big Island veterans struggle to find work


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

For employers looking to fill key positions, U.S. military veterans offer an enticing option.

But at a time when more veterans are returning home from active duty, fewer job opportunities are being made available to them. Last year, the jobless rate among post-Sept. 11, 2001, veterans averaged 12.1 percent — much higher than the national rate of about 9 percent.

On Hawaii Island, unemployed veterans face an especially daunting task, says Melvin Arai, an employment representative for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Workforce Development Division.

“It’s already difficult here because of our economy. There just aren’t many jobs on this island,” he said.

On top of that, veterans must contend with a number of challenges that serve to hurt their chances as they compete with civilian jobseekers.

“If you’ve been deployed, you haven’t been around and don’t have the contacts that other people may have,” Arai said. “You’re out of the loop. … A lot of them come in, and they don’t know anybody.”

Additionally, some veterans may have a hard time knowing how their military experience can translate into a valuable civilian commodity.

“I have a lot of them who say to me, ‘I was an infantryman. How does that translate to work skills?’” he said. “But I tell them, ‘You had responsibility. … You have leadership skills that would make a good manager or a supervisor. You have good critical thinking skills.’”

Arai’s assertions were borne out in a national report released in June that centered on interviews with 87 individuals representing 69 companies. According to a summary of the report by the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the authors found that “hiring veterans is good business.”

Among the reasons that employers gave CNAS for preferring U.S. military veterans:

• Leadership and teamwork skills. Veterans typically have led colleagues, accepted direction from others and operated as part of a small team.

• Character. Veterans are perceived as being trustworthy, dependable, drug-free and having a strong work ethic.

• Structure and discipline. Companies, especially those that emphasize safety, appreciate veterans’ experience following established procedures.

• Expertise. Companies value veterans’ occupational skills, job-specific experiences and understanding of the military community.

• Dynamic environment. Veterans are accustomed to performing and making decisions in dynamic and rapidly changing circumstances.

• Effectiveness. Interviewees report that veterans “get it done.”

• Proven success. Some organizations hire veterans largely because other veterans have already been successful in their organization. Veterans demonstrate that they share company values and fit the organizational culture.

• Resiliency. Veterans are accustomed to working in difficult environments, and to traveling and relocating.

• Loyalty. Veterans are committed to the organizations they work for, which can translate into longer tenure.

• Public relations value. Some companies have found marketing benefits to hiring veterans.

Despite employers’ strong perceptions of veterans, many of them continue to struggle with finding employment. And that’s why a multitude of options exists to help connect them with employers. Among its offerings, the Workforce Development Division operates the Veterans’ Employment and Training Services Program, which was created by Congress to help veterans make the transition from military to civilian life and find fulfilling careers. The program, known as VETS, organizes job fairs and recruitment opportunities for vets, offers counseling for veteran job seekers, and maintains a federal contractor job listing and an online jobs database at hirenethawaii.com.

And that’s just one place to find help. Performing a simple Google search for veteran employment opportunities reveals state, national and private services available. In fact, one troubling reason employers gave CNAS for their failing to hire veterans centered on the fact that 25 percent of the employers struggled with where to look.

“… the differences between those sites are confusing, many of the websites charge the employer to list vacancies and there is no single repository of veterans’ resumes that employers can review,” the report said.

In an effort to cut through the confusion, Arai and the Workforce Development Division have been placing ads for years in local media, including this newspaper, under the heading “Hire The Vet.” The ads provide a few sentences about individual veterans seeking employment, providing listings of their experience.

“We put in the qualifications of our veterans, hoping employers see them, and if they’re interested, the employer can contact us. It’s a service for the veterans, and they don’t pay for it,” Arai said. “It’s just to show the skills of the veterans we have on our list. It runs the whole month, and hopefully employers will see them and they’ll give me a call.”

Arai added that companies that serve as federal contractors are required to hire a certain percentage of veterans to maintain their contractor status. Among them are Big Isle companies Yamada & Sons, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp., Hawaii Electric Light Co., Life Care Center of Hilo, and Hale Anuenue Restorative Care Center.

“Veterans are no different than the general public when they’re unemployed,” Arai said. “It’s a difficult situation. But they may be able to offer a lot of things that people never in the military can’t offer. They make good workers, and they just need the opportunity.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

For more information:

For Employers

• The Work Opportunity Tax Credit

WOTC is a federal tax credit available to private-sector business and qualified non-profit organizations for hiring certain targeted groups, including veterans, who have faced significant barriers to employment. For-profit employers may receive tax credits as high as $9,600 per qualified veteran or up to $6,240 for qualified tax-exempt organizations. For more information, visit www.doleta.gov/wotc.

For Veterans

• Workforce Development Division

Hilo

1990 Kinoole St.,

Suite 102

Hilo, HI 96720

(808) 981-2860

Email: dlir.wdd.hilo@hawaii.gov

Kona

74-5565 Luhia St.

Bldg. C, Bay 4

Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

(808) 327-4774

Email: dlir.wdd.kona@hawaii.gov

• The Gold Card Initiative

The Gold Card provides unemployed post-9/11 era veterans with the intensive and follow-up services they need to succeed in today’s job market, including a job readiness assessment with interviews and testing; design of an Individual Development Plan; career guidance through group or individual counseling that helps veterans in making training and career decisions; referral to job banks, job portals, and job openings; referral to employers and registered apprenticeship sponsors; referral to training by WIA-funded or third party service providers; and monthly follow-up by an assigned case manager for up to six months. For more information visit dol.gov/vets/goldcard.html.

Veterans Retraining Assistance Program

VRAP offers up to 12 months of training assistance to unemployed veterans. The federal Department of Labor will provide employment assistance to every veteran who participates, upon completion of the program. Participants must be enrolled in a program of education approved for VA benefits that is offered by a community college or technical school. The program must lead to an associate degree, non-college degree or a certificate, and train the veteran for a high demand occupation. For more info or to apply, call 1-800-827-1000 or visit www.benefits.va.gov/vow.

For more information, visit the Workforce Development Division at hawaii.gov/labor/wdd.

 

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