The Veteran’s Perspective – Project Greenlight II – Supporting Veteran Employment

By Elmer Ellsworth and the Veteran’s Perspective

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We received considerable feedback on our article last week about Walmart’s Project Greenlight. To be clear, nobody is suggesting that Walmart should be boycotted, we do not believe Veterans should be “offended” by people putting up green lights and we are not questioning the fact that Walmart does give a considerable amount of money for Veteran issues.

However, unfortunately, the problem of Veteran Unemployment will not be resolved by re-branding the yellow ribbon campaign or by coining a new phrase such as “greenlighting.” So, today’s article we will dive a little deeper into the issues affecting Veteran Employment.

The Reality – There are many Veterans who find themselves unemployed despite the numerous programs that corporate America and the VA have initiated to address the problem. Somewhere there is a very large disconnect. A central “portal” or registry for Veterans who are unemployed does NOT exist.

Young Vets Get Help – Many corporate efforts and VA programs use Veterans to fill their most basic, entry level, ground floor positions. This is a good as it provides opportunity for those young Veterans who leave the military after their first tour. And, it is well deserved since it is the young men and women who enlist that face the greatest hardship and challenges among those who serve in harm’s way. From a private sector perspective, it is also a “no-brainer” for companies to recruit and hire these younger veterans because they are often far more qualified for just about any entry level position than their civilian counterparts.

But, Let’s Be Real — These young Veterans account for only a small segment of the total Veteran group in the US. This is because we are a Nation with an all-volunteer force that relies on high levels of retention to maintain a high level of professionalism. As a result, a large number of “Veterans” do not leave the service until they have attained a higher level of seniority and experience. So, those Veterans are not in a position to re-start their lives with entry level positions.

Defense Sector Downsizing – Perhaps the most “Veteran” friendly sector within corporate America has traditionally been the Defense & Aerospace industry which has always welcomed and recruited senior level military professionals. However, that market has been extremely hard hit with layoffs and reductions in force over the past five years. Those Veterans who had spent their entire non-military professional career in that sector can find it very challenging to transition to new industries. None of the VA programs or corporate efforts that I am aware of are focused on this part of the problem.

Misperceptions – It is impossible to say how much the perceptions within “civilian” worlds about PTSD or the adaptability of the “warrior” culture into their workforce play into the problems facing Veterans seeking employment. Nobody wants to believe that these are actually significant factors. But, the reality is that most Veterans have too many stories about ridiculous interview questions and even instances of blatant discrimination. At a minimum, while all Americans are impacted by the subtle yet real issue of “age discrimination” in our workforce, Veterans ages 40-60 years are particularly at risk.

No More Pandering – Ultimately, it is extremely frustrating for Veterans to hear about all the programs, sponsorships and money being spent to help solve these problems while still being unable to find meaningful employment. Veterans do not expect any special hand-outs. But, Veterans do expect that if companies and organizations are going to talk the talk, at some point they should actually walk the walk instead of just saying great things or making heart throbbing commercials. Executive leaders should look at their hiring practices and question hiring managers to ensure that Veterans are indeed being “greenlighted” before they hold themselves out as being supportive of Veterans.

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