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Minnesota National Guard
Local leaders: Veterans skills transfer to civilian work force

Posted: Jun 27, 2012, 9:15 am
By Matthew Stolle
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

It stands as a stark contradiction: We sing the praises of veterans and service members for their sacrifices, yet employ them in fewer numbers than regular folks

On Tuesday, a group of small business leaders, personnel directors, career counselors and others gathered at Mayo High School to discuss ways to narrow that gap

"The struggles that we do have with veterans is, how do we translate those skills and an understanding of those skills" into the job market, Dr Timothy Lineberry, a psychiatry professor for Mayo Clinic, told an estimated 150 people in the school's auditorium

The event, "Veteran Employment in Minnesota," was hosted by the Minnesota Department of Veterans, Minnesota National Guard and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and included an address by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie

It's not that veterans don't have marketable skills, experts say, but sometimes even vets are slow to recognize how their experiences and training have value outside a military context

Annette Kuyper, director of military outreach for the Minnesota National Guard, related how her son — a soldier who had seen combat in Iraq — was asked in a job interview to describe a crisis situation he had been through Instead of talking about the times his convoy had come under attack in Iraq, he described a "crisis" he went through with a girlfriend in high school

"I didn't think about it That was just my job," Kuyper recalled her son saying when asked why he didn't cite his military experiences

The fact is, service members sometimes don't see a connection between their military experiences and the skills employers seek

In May, the US unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the US Armed Forces at any time since September 2001 stood at 127 percent, up from 121 percnet a year earlier Among these veterans, those who were male and ages 18 to 24 had a 29 percent jobless rate last year

The problem is likely to get worse as thousands of soldiers return from the war in Afghanistan this year and next

Veterans face challenges in finding work that civilians don't Service members often need to time to "decompress" or work through emotional traumas after they return from combat That takes time and patience on the part of employers

And unlike a generation ago, the work world has become more technical Employers are demanding employees with computer and technical skills

"A soldier, being mustered out 30 years ago, could blend right into what is going on," said Randy Johnson, executive director of Workforce Development, Inc "Our work world has gotten much more tech savvy, but so has the military"

On the other hand, veterans bring to the table qualities that should be in high demand by employers One skill prized by employers "across the board," Johnson said, is the ability to start and finish a job — a core military function

"People who can be left alone and be relied on to get the job done — that's first and foremost," Johnson said

But more barriers could be brought down Experts say veterans are more inclined to go to college and thus enhance their appeal to employers if they are given credit for "prior learning" That allows them to avoid the expense and wasted time of taking classes they don't need

"They will take more credits if there is a couple of credits granted up front," Johnson said
Minnesota's higher education system has a "pretty good process" of giving credit for such experiences, but in some areas, there is little transfer, said Tony Tengwall, a coordinator of veterans benefits for Rochester Community and Technical College One area where there is a big disconnect is in the medical field "because of the certifications," he said

"You want to cut through everything you've already done and go to where you're ready to start," Tengwall said
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