Job search challenges veterans

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

Published:

 

It’s a tough time to look for work no matter what your background. But veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to face extra challenges. They are 20 percent more likely to be unemployed than non-veterans, nationwide.

Considering the risks these men and women take, and the sacrifices they make, we should all be troubled by that fact.

I’ve heard of managers passing over veterans because they don’t have a college degree, without considering the strengths and attributes that military service imbues. A degree is necessary for some jobs, but when it’s used as a screening device to identify top candidates military service should also count.

“Veterans learn fast and most of them have leadership skills,” said Mike Willbur of Vancouver, who is project specialist with the Washington Veterans Administration, and a retiree of the U.S. Army. “People learn teamwork while they’re in the military. We work with diverse groups of people and we are forced to get along with one another. We perform well under pressure. We respect the rules.”

Fortunately, Willbur believes that the vast majority of people who make hiring decisions do recognize the value of military experience — especially in Clark County.

Staying positive

Federal and state hiring programs that score candidates based on how well they meet hiring criteria often give a few extra points to veterans. And many businesses also see the value of hiring those who have served, as demonstrated by the 28 employers who staffed booths at a recent Clark College job fair for veterans. Boeing, Insitu, iQ Credit Union and Legacy Health were all looking for a few good veterans.

Perhaps that’s why the former service members I met at the fair were so optimistic about their prospects. Veterans including 27-year-old Samantha Orem of Battle Ground, 27-year-old Colt Smith of Vancouver and 34-year-old Vince Sergi of Vancouver all told me they were upbeat about their job searches.

Willbur is also upbeat about the odds that most service members will do well when they come back home — including his daughter Kristine Willbur, 23, a U.S. Army flight medic in the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan.

But post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries can make it hard to jump back into civilian life. Service members who enlisted right after high school may struggle to find work because they’re still learning how to navigate non-military adulthood. The transition can be hard for many reasons.

Veterans should know that resources exist to help them find work. Vancouver-based Partners in Careers and the state Veterans Administration are good places to start.

Employers that want to help bring down the unemployment rate of people who risk their lives in service to their country may want to contact these programs, too. Don’t hire anyone who isn’t qualified, but at least give veterans a chance.

Courtney Sherwood is The Columbian’s business and features editor. Reach her at 360-735-4561 or courtney.sherwood@columbian.com.