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Vets face struggles in quest for employment — Military credentials may not transfer to civilian world
Despite federal action, veterans around the county still face difficulties transferring military experience and qualifications to the civilian world, leading in some cases to extended periods of unemployment.
Veterans at a listening session with Senator Patty Murray last Thursday voiced frustration over the issue, according to Pete Cholometes, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post where the session was held. Cholometes said that several participants claimed to have been passed over for skilled work in Washington in favor of applicants with less experience, primarily because their experience or credentials weren’t recognized by the employers.
Problems frequently arise, said Midge Joiner, a veterans’ employment specialist with Kitsap County Worksource, from the fact that military job titles can be ambiguous, and often do not specify exactly what a service member did on a day-to-day basis in the military.
The result, Joiner said, is that a service member might in reality have several years of experience with a given trade or a certain type of equipment, but after discharge be left without documents showing anything other than his or her rank and pay grade.
Compounding the ambiguity is the size of the military and the nature of deployments that send service members around the world, making it difficult to locate supervising officers who, even if they do remember a service member well enough to give a reference, may be difficult or impossible to locate outside of the military.
Steven Warnick, an eight-year veteran about to leave the Marine Corps, said he feels he has a good chance of finding a job in his field, security, outside the military, but that his search has been made harder by the fact that his military security qualifications don’t meet requirements set out by civilian employers.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” said Warnick, “because I’ll look at a job, and I’ll be like, ‘I’ve done this before,’ but then I’ll get down to those prerequisites and it will list a lot of requirements I don’t have.”
Of his eight years in the military, Warnick said, he spent four-and-a-half working security. Warnick said he’d like to find a job like that in the civilian world, but that he didn’t think most companies would recognize his military experience, since his official designation had stayed the same even after he took on the new responsibilities.
Already, Warnick said, he has not applied for at least three jobs because they required a certain number of years of experience that he couldn’t prove he had.
Rudy Muriel, a 15-year veteran who now works with other veterans at Worksource, said that although he ultimately found a job, he spent six months unemployed specifically because employers did not recognize from the military job title listed on his resume what experience he actually had.
During his miltary days Muriel was a forward observer in field artillery.
As a soldier, his job was to send target information so airstrikes could be made. But, Muriel said, it was only for his first five years in the military that he actually performed those duties. For the next ten – the majority of his time in the military – he served as a recruiter, even though he was still classified as a combat infantryman.
When he left the military, Muriel said he sought work in human resources.
It wasn’t until he took a course at Worksource Bremerton that Muriel realized that employers might be overlooking him because he listed his last job title as “combat infantry.”
When he changed his resume so that his experience stood out, Muriel said, he found work quickly, albeit earning significantly less than similarly experienced civilian peers.
According to Joiner, progress is being made.
The state Department of Licesning will now recognize military truck driving experience, she said, and although veterans will still have to take the department’s civilian test, they can often avoid having to go through expensive truck driving school covering basics they already know.
Even for vets whose individual benefits have run out, said Joiner, because of the federal Work Force Investment Act, veterans of any age are notified first by Worksource of job postings, and can have their resumes sent first, before non-veterans’ resumes, to companies with open positions.
This year’s Hiring Heroes Act, a bill Murray sponsored, also establishes two pilot projects to push the federal Department of Labor toward smoothing the transition process for veterans, said Murray spokesman Matt McLavanah.
Still, Muriel said he sees some veterans today spending much longer than he did trying to figure out how to present and prove their experience and skills to employers.
Said Muriel, “I’m one of the lucky ones.”