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The Labor Day holiday traditionally celebrates the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. One overlooked but ready source of qualified workers — who both protect and serve this nation — is our own military personnel.

Not only do our men and women in uniform make tireless sacrifices on our behalf protecting the freedoms we cherish, they also provide an enormous talent pool for employers. Veterans are qualified, committed job candidates with transferable skills that are proven in real-world situations. They grasp new concepts quickly and work well both independently and as part of a team — highly prized skills in today’s workplace.

As the economy comes out of the worst recession on record and jobs are created, our nation will need an increasingly skilled work force. The Department of Labor recognizes that the skills obtained during an individual’s military service can meet or exceed the requirements of the civilian work force. I believe strongly that veterans deserve the chance to find good jobs and we work closely with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to help them. We must work together to help our veterans overcome the challenges they face to finding a good job when they return to civilian life.

To ensure that we can support the smooth transition into civilian careers, my Veterans’ Employment & Training Service (VETS) agency provides a two-and-a-half-day employment workshop to provide transitioning servicemembers with a solid foundation of knowledge and tools to assist in a successful transition into the civilian work force. Through this employment workshop, servicemembers are provided with a solid foundation of real-world knowledge. In 2009, more than 120,000 transitioning servicemembers attended these workshops.

We are in the process of transforming our Transition Assistance Program (TAP) employment workshops to make them more engaging, economically relevant and immediately useful. A 2011 redesign will help us create a program that meets the needs of transitioning servicemembers. The new TAP will determine career readiness, focus on experiential learning, provide after-TAP support, and introduce content online to allow veterans a refresher course should they need it. This and other changes will keep our returning servicemembers competitive in this economy.

Unfortunately, even with this pool of highly talented servicemembers, the unemployment rate among veterans was 8.1 percent last year, and that’s unacceptable! And while we are reminded daily of the tremendous sacrifices made by our servicemembers, a staggering number of our homeless population are veterans. The VA estimates there are about 107,000 homeless veterans, of whom 5,000 are estimated to be women. About 1,300 are homeless veterans with families.

The Obama administration has taken a number of steps to help by funding hundreds of state and local programs — including the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP), through which homeless veterans may receive occupational, classroom and on-the-job training, as well as job-search and placement assistance, including follow-up services. HVRP grants will provide vital services to more than 20,000 veterans this year. We have also committed to investing more than $9 million this year in green jobs training for more than 4,000 veterans.

The Department of Labor has also taken a number of other steps to aid our veterans, including developing an employer outreach program with particular emphasis on the private sector. This includes working with the Chamber of Commerce, Society for Human Resource Management, Business Executives for National Security, Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration and other business associations. We are also identifying effective ways to communicate to employers the value of hiring veterans, including connecting employers with more than 2,000 local veterans’ employment representatives. Additionally, we are linking veterans as job candidates with businesses through One-Stop Career Centers.

Finally, I have been selected by President Barack Obama to co-chair his Council on Veterans Employment, which will establish a government-wide effort to increase the number of veterans employed by the federal government. And all of my efforts to increase job opportunities for veterans are being led by VETS Assistant Secretary Raymond Jefferson. Ray, a West Point graduate, is my national advocate for veterans’ employment. He works tirelessly to provide our servicemembers with job opportunities and training resources.

All of us, as Americans, are indebted to our veterans for their service to our nation. Our programs need to continue to honor our men and women in uniform by making sure they receive the benefits they have earned and deserve. Those who are returning should be welcomed back not only as heroes, but also as employees.

Hilda L. Solis is secretary of Labor.

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