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Minnesota National Guard
National Guard soldiers return to support network aimed at helping them find jobs

Rosemount, Minn — More than 500 National Guard soldiers woke up at home yesterday morning for the first time in more than a year In the next few months, they’ll reclaim their civilian lives

But for many, finding a job will be an important challenge National Guard officials say about 20 percent of the nearly 3,000 Red Bulls brigade soldiers returning home from Kuwait will not have a job waiting for them

Maj Gen David Elicerio, the commander of Minnesota’s 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division, knows that challenge Three years ago, he struggled to find civilian work after serving in Iraq

“I know well the frustrations that our soldiers have, coming back to Minnesota and trying to match the skill sets of a commander in Iraq in charge of 15,000 soldiers over nine provinces in Iraq to the job market in Minnesota,” Elicerio said

To speed the transition back to working life for returning soldiers, National Guard officials and Minnesota businesses are helping them maneuver through the employment process

In the coming months, the Guard will work with private employers and officials from the Department of Employment and Economic Development to host job fairs around the state and at regional workforce centers throughout the summer

Elicerio recently told a group of business representatives what happened when he returned from his last tour of duty overseas In 2009, he contacted 3M officials about job opportunities and received a less-than-enthusiastic reception

“Hey, I’m a chemical engineer with over 25 years’ experience in the health care industry and I know you’re big in health care products,” he recalled telling them “They said, ‘You’re right We’ve got an entry-level engineering job for you, part time, in our facility in Kansas City’ I said ‘Eh, that’s not going to work so well, either’”

Elicerio told the story at one of several events the Guard is hosting to connect businesses with unemployed soldiers returning from Kuwait this year

The Guard is teaching employers some Army basics — like the difference between a division and a squad and what job descriptions and ranks mean Elicerio said soldiers often overlook the importance of describing their military experience to civilians

The unemployment rate for Minnesota veterans is more than three times the state’s civilian unemployment rate of 57 percent Last month, representatives from several major companies, including Target, Best Buy and US Bank, helped soldiers spruce up their resumes and prepare for job interviews while they were still in Kuwait

Now other companies are targeting recruitment efforts on returning soldiers

Military experience is often lost in translation, said Ronda Wescott, president of public sector services for Travelers Insurance The St Paul-based company employs 1,200 veterans across the country

“In corporate America, we deal with job descriptions,” she said after speaking to attendees at the National Guard employers event “So if you had a job description in the military … it’s probably full of Army lingo Just take that job description and translate it into what it means generally, to a lay person, and that would work well”

Wescott said Travelers’ recruiters are learning to translate military experience into possible jobs at the company But she said soldiers need to do a better job being open with potential employers about what they did during their time in the military

“There’s been a hesitancy to talk too much about things that have happened in Iraq, for example, or wherever it is,” Wescott said “But I think there’s a way to do that without giving anything away”

The push to help returning soldiers has also made its way to the state Capitol Last month, Gov Mark Dayton signed a bill that allows employers to set a hiring preference for veterans

State Sen Ted Daley, R-Eagan, who sponsored his chamber’s bill, said employers have an opportunity to help veterans find jobs

“The great thing is, it’s not a mandate,” Daley said “It doesn’t force any company to do this It’s permissive language which allows them to do it and not to be worried or troubled by any lawsuits that they could face for preferring to hire veterans”
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