The statistics are alarming. According to the Department of Labor's November figures, 10 percent of recent veterans are unemployed. That's significantly higher than the 7.7 percent unemployment rate for the general population. For female veterans, the unemployment rate is nearly 13 percent.
Given that small businesses are behind much of the job creation in the country, there would seem to be an obvious fix: Make sure that veterans fill some of those jobs you create. It's hard to question the social good of hiring those who have served our country. However, there are stumbling blocks that pose challenges if you are interested in hiring veterans.
One problem is that many recent veterans returning home don't have the skills that are needed in the changing economy, says JustinAshton, co-founder of XL Hybrids, a Boston-based developer of technology for converting vehicles to hybrids. He says he would like to hire veterans but finds that many lack the training he seeks.
"Vets bring a lot to the table, but the jobs that are open are more technical than they were 10 years ago, and there is a mismatch in skills," he says. Ashton, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, suggests that the retraining programs offered by organizations such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should be tweaked to include up-to-date training on things such as Web programming and Web 2.0 marketing. "It is a very competitive job market, and they are competing against people with more focused skills," he says.
Also, although veterans are instilled with qualities such as discipline, leadership, and loyalty, it can be hard to transmit that fact to employers. Luke Sutherland served two tours of duty in Iraq as a cavalry scout in the Army before leaving the military in 2009. Even with degrees in finance and economics that he was able to earn with help from the GI Bill, he struggled to land a job against candidates with more practical experience.
"It's difficult to take the military skill set and training and put that on a résumé," he says. "I can't say I can take apart a machine gun or read a map or lead a patrol. It just doesn't translate." Sutherland persevered and landed a job as a project analyst for J.G. Management Systems, a company that provides technical management consulting to the federal government.
Another issue is the government's handling of the tax credits that are available to employers for hiring veterans. On paper, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit offers employers refunds ranging from $2,400 to $9,600 for hiring unemployed or wounded and disabled veterans. But, like most things related to the government, it's rarely that simple. There are so many caveats and categories to the byzantine credits that they are often hard to claim.
Veteran Corps of America offers a good example. The O'Fallon, Illinois-based provider of security services and protective systems for government clients has qualified only once for a tax credit, despite the fact that 70 percent of its 33-person work force consists of veterans. The credit amounted to $2,400.
"The system of credits is complex, and some require us to request that veterans volunteer personal information in order for us to take advantage of a given credit," says Bill Wheeler, president of Veteran Corps. "As you might imagine, that is something of a sticky wicket." However, Wheeler says the tax credits (or lack thereof) have little to do with his decision to hire veterans. A retired Air Force pilot, Wheeler has made it his mission to employ veterans and help them readjust to civilian life. It has been mutually beneficial--the company's revenue jumped to $76 million in 2011 from $8 million in 2008.
"In a small business, you are often looking for people to step out of their comfort zone," Wheeler says. "These folks are hard chargers who will rise to the challenge, and when they come in, the bar moves up."