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February 27, 2013

Taking on civilian roles

Veterans returning home face sluggish job market with flexibility

After eight years as a U.S. Army truck driver, Robert Gordon spent a decade driving trucks for civilian companies which wouldn’t recognize his military work experience.

Gordon, who joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1989, left the trucking business for family reasons and started work at Myers Spring a week ago. He’s now pursuing an associates degree through Ivy Tech Community College when he’s not on the job. And he’s one of a group that area employers credit with more willingness to pursue job-related training and commit to a company.

Workforce statistics indicate that post-9/11 veterans returning home are facing a statewide unemployment rate of 20 percent, twice the national rate for post-9/11 veterans.

However, U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 1,559 veterans ages 18 to 64 are in the Cass County workforce, and of those, an estimated 129 are unemployed — all from age categories over 34 years old. Those estimates are based on community surveys from 2007 through 2011.

More recent data isn’t available, but Cass County Veterans Services officer Larry Lowry suggested “quite a few” veterans are looking for employment now.

“They may lack the skills, or some of them have skills… there just don’t seem to be too many jobs available,” Lowry said.

Veterans in medical or technical fields often have marketable skills they can transfer into civilian life, he added, “but a lot of times if they were just in the infantry or artillery, those skills we can’t really use back home right now.”

In many cases, veterans will take “about anything they can get a hold of,” Lowry said. “Good jobs are hard to come by now.”

Other characteristics make veterans as a group good candidates for job openings, local employers say.

“When you’re looking at a veteran, you’re know you’ve got somebody who’s willing to make a commitment,” said Brian Howard, plant manager at ABC Metals in Logansport.

Of the 43 employed at the metals supplier, about eight are veterans. Many had some training from their military days that could transfer to civilian work, he said, though it didn’t always apply to work at ABC Metals.

Employers approached by one new Logansport staffing agency have been very receptive of hiring veterans, according to an agency spokesman.

“Employers definitely want to hire veterans,” said Todd Taylor, an employment representative for Veterans Labor Group, a member of the Dilling Group. The staffing contractor has been operating in Logansport for about six months and works strictly on finding jobs for veterans or their family members.

“Right now I think the only problem is that there just aren’t jobs available, especially in certain communities,” Taylor explained. Economic recovery in central Indiana has been slow, he said, but the staffing agency is working with employers and job-seeking veterans to prepare for better job prospects ahead.

“As the economy shows signs of rebound I think employment will pick up,” Taylor said. “Right now about all we can do in that kind of situation is get the foundation set for when it picks up.”

The group is seeing some demand to fill logistics jobs like warehousing and transportation, a trend Taylor said was statewide. “Manufacturing seems to be making a slow comeback in Indiana, especially up north,” he said.

Overall, veterans who’ve contacted Veterans Labor Group have typically had more skills than required for a particular job, he said. But they’re also willing to pursue additional certification.

“You really have to be eager to change if you have to” in the current job market, said Taylor. “Military personnel seem to really understand that.”

“That seems to be the mindset of a lot of the military — they are a little more eager to seek training or additional certification.”

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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