Where veterans are finding jobs
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 8, 2011
WASHINGTON — First, the bad news: More than 850,000 veterans are unemployed, and more than a quarter of them are young veterans.
But here’s the good news: More than 1.7 million recently separated veterans and 8.6 million other former servicemembers are collecting paychecks in the civilian workforce. So it can be done, even with the depressed (and depressing) job market.
Looking at Bureau of Labor Statistics data, here are some of the industries hiring veterans at a rapid pace:
Nearly one in 10 veterans employed today works for a freight or transportation firm, almost double the rate of civilians. At rail companies such as Union Pacific and CSX, veterans make up more than one-fifth of the workforce.
Holly Arthur, spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads, said the move from military life to the transportation industry is an easy transition.
Need to get freight from Chicago to New York? That’s a clear mission. A task with long hours and a strict schedule? Sounds like a typical day for troops just back from Afghanistan.
Companies need individuals for track construction, logistical work, engine maintenance and heavy-duty equipment operation — all skills that mirror many military job specialties. Arthur said the jobs also often require strong technical knowledge and some physical labor, areas where veterans are better suited than many civilian applicants.
And what do veterans see in the industry?
“It’s an area where you do not need a college degree to get a job right away, but it’s also a true career,” Arthur said. “That’s a great match.”
Private security is a booming industry for both male and female veterans. Former military personnel are three times more likely to end up in those jobs than their civilian peers. One in every 10 employed, young male vets works in a protective service occupation.
But it’s not necessarily for the reasons you assume. Jeff Flint, executive director of the National Association of Security Companies, said veterans’ weapons training and combat experience is obviously a plus, but he estimates that 90 percent of jobs in the U.S. security sector are unarmed posts. It’s less about brute force and more about teamwork.
“These are folks who have to come together, make a plan and follow orders, then use good judgment in potentially difficult situations,” he said. “That’s why our employers look at veterans and former law enforcement. You can rely on their decision-making.”
Flint said protective service jobs attract veterans because of the similarities to military duties, and also because the industry is growing. The Department of Labor said the security sector grew by nearly 35 percent over the last decade, in part because of cutbacks to local law enforcement jobs. That has forced many companies to look to private contractors for security help.
Installation, maintenance and repair
That’s a broad category, one that encompasses plumbers and electricians, telecommunications specialists, automotive repairmen and other craft workers. It’s also one that includes more than 800,000 working veterans.
Jeff Gardner, director of technical training for the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, said getting a job in any specialty requires training and certification for any applicant, but veterans often have a leg up on real-world experience when companies start hiring.
“Everything with home electronics today is about networking and streaming media,” he said. “So veterans coming out of the service with radio and data IT skills, someone who has worked with aircraft communications, they’re a natural fit.
“If a veteran comes back and wants to get a good job with a cable company or AT&T or Best Buy, he can get that certification and get a leg up in hiring.”
And that training might be free. Recent changes to veterans’ Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits cover more craft and apprenticeship programs. Gardner said most of the fees associated with the Electronic Systems Professional Alliance certification needed for home installation work are covered by the education benefit.
Even after they’ve left the military, veterans’ biggest source for paychecks is still Uncle Sam. Nearly 2.3 million veterans work in federal, state and local posts. That’s more than 12 percent of government jobs nationwide.
And the news is even better for younger vets: Nearly one in three jobs held by recently separated veterans is in the public sector. Thank the veterans preference laws giving former servicemembers an edge, and the push by politicians to encourage federal and state agencies to target veterans.
Which agencies are hiring? On the federal level, nearly 80 percent of those jobs were in the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. But the Departments of Justice and Interior each added more than 2,200 veterans last year, and the Departments of Treasury and Agriculture, more than 1,500 each.
State and local government jobs — including positions such as township police officers, EMT workers and state medical professionals — made up about one in eight jobs held by veterans last year.