For some veterans, the civilian job market is not attractive: ‘Just having my military experience is not enough’

Phillip Slaughter left the Army after 18 years and found the same job he had in uniform: behind the wheel of a truck. Instead of towing food and bullets through the war zone, he hauled packages for FedEx.

This is not what he wants to do. The job aggravated his post-traumatic stress disorder. It would be three years and several jobs before she landed her ideal position as a resource recruiter for a tech company.

“I think it’s the first job I’ve worked 10 months in a row without stopping,” said Slaughter, 41, who lives in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Slaughter is a US military veteran who found a job he loves at a time when the nation is experiencing some of the lowest monthly veteran unemployment on record. But speed- 2.7% in October – can mask the difficulty of the transition that sometimes takes several years of working unfulfilling jobs, while forging a new identity and a new purpose beyond serving our country.

“Even though (veteran unemployment) is low, I like to see surveys about how many people are happy in the positions they’re in,” said Slaughter, who also runs his own consulting firm for fellow vets.

Veterans are about 7% of the civilian population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate could help the nation’s efforts to help former service members, experts say. It can also reflect on the military and how to prepare personnel to leave. High veteran unemployment is not good for recruiting.

For this Veterans Day, a handful of former service members talk about their experiences looking for work at a time when the veteran unemployment rate is so low. For some, it’s easy – but others have struggled.

Pierson Gest, a former Army infantryman, landed his first post-military job in August as a hydroelectric system designer in California.

Gest joined during the Great Recession, knowing he would eventually go to school on the GI Bill. Starting college in 2017 was difficult at first as he developed study habits. But he got the hang of it, earning his engineering degree in June.

“I was lucky enough to negotiate a six-figure salary,” said Gest, 37, who lives outside San Francisco. “And I definitely used and leveraged my experience in the Army to negotiate that salary on top of my college degree.”

Across the country in Florida, Thomas Holmes is still looking for the ideal job.

Holmes, 46, left the Air Force in 2012 after 17 years, during which he maintained parachute systems for various types of aircraft, from F-15 fighter jets to U-2 spy planes.

She said the one full-time job she worked, in the billing and claims department at the warehouse office, was toxic. He quit after about 18 months.

Holmes used the GI Bill to earn three degrees, including a master’s in sports management. He found part-time work in the industry, but rising gas prices and the lure of more consistent hours led him to work at a nearby UPS store.

“I’ve applied for a lot of jobs — county jobs, state jobs, all kinds of things,” said Holmes, who lives outside Tampa. “Then all I got was: ‘Well, thank you for your service.'”

Jayla Hair’s transition from Navy to civilian paralegal was not easy, despite a college degree in the field and seemingly transferable skills.

Rambut, 30, said he applied for about 300 jobs over the course of eight months. After seeking help from a Navy program and a friend, Hair revamped her resume and a job interview finally arrived. But potential employers cite a lack of experience with state laws and civil courts.

Hair took a temporary job in the legal field and recently accepted a full-time position as a paralegal for a Fortune 500 company in the Chicago area.

“Just having my military experience wasn’t enough,” said Hair, who plans to pursue a law degree in the future. “If I hadn’t had this temporary job to build my civilian resume, I don’t know where I would be today.”

Feather landing his job at a time when veteran unemployment has dropped. The annual veteran unemployment rate has decreased steadily from 8.7% in 2010 to 3.1% in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, after a spike driven by the coronavirus pandemic, the annual rate was 4.4%. But it is monthly percentage adjusted seasonally in March it was 2.4, hailed by President Joe Biden as tied for the lowest speed on record. August also hit that mark.

The tight labor market and demand for workers after the coronavirus pandemic are likely factors in the low veteran unemployment rate, said Jeffrey B. Wenger, senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp. , the Department of Veterans Affairs and veteran service organizations provide assistance to outgoing service members.

Training such as resume-writing is now mandatory and American companies have launched initiatives to hire hundreds of thousands of vets.

Many of those businesses grew out of the Great Recession and the influx of stressed service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, which “brought the veteran employment crisis to a head,” Wenger said.

“And over the last 10 to 15 years, people have spent more resources and become more dedicated to fixing the problem,” Wenger said.

Among them is Transition Overwatch, a company that runs career internship programs across the country. CEO Sean Ofeldt said the company zeroes in on what active service members want to do as civilians, not what they do or the skills they have learned in the military.

“A lot of military members don’t want to keep doing what they’re doing,” said Ofeldt, a former Navy SEAL. “We train them when they are actively engaged and then launch them into their actual career with all the support they need for the first 12 months.”

But the formula for supporting veterans must go beyond just jobs. It also needs to focus on social challenges, said Karl Hamner, a University of Alabama professor of education.

Veterans can feel isolated after losing a leg to a fellow service member. Hamner said the new data shows that the loss can be particularly acute for women because they form strong bonds with each other when they navigate the military dominated by men.

In a soon-to-be-released national survey of 4,700 female veterans conducted by Hamner and his colleagues, 70% said adjusting to civilian life was difficult; 71% say they need more time to figure out what they want to do.

“They have to prove themselves in a respected, highly respected profession,” Hamner said. “And now they’re back to trying to understand what it means to be a civil woman and deal with all the standard discriminatory things.”

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