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Troops Need To Start Job Hunting Before They Leave the Military

Nearly half of veterans stay in their first post-separation jobs for less than 12 months. It’s time to change that. By James Schmeling and Nicholas Armstrong

When it comes to veterans’ employment, it is time to do more than asking companies to step up and hire. It is time for senior military leaders to start telling service members they need to get serious about their job searches before leaving the military. According to two recent studies, nearly half of veterans stayed in their first post-separation position for 12 months or less (and two-thirds for two years or less) and eight in 10 veterans did not have a job when they left the military.

The two studies, the Veteran Job Retention Survey by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) in collaboration with VetAdvisor LLC and The State of the American Veteran: The Los Angeles County Veterans Study by the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR) at the University of Southern California, demonstrate a significant challenge – veterans are not prepared for the post-service career transition, and are not making informed decisions on first jobs post-service. They are neither finding a job before transitioning out of the military, nor taking a position that is a fit when they do take a first job.

IVMF’s finding also noted that the reasons they are transitioning quickly out of first positions are primarily the lack of opportunities to use their skills and abilities to their fullest extent, limited opportunities for career development and advancement, and that they found new employment opportunities, along with the fourth reason, inadequate compensation and benefits. CIR’s work likewise found that of those veterans in employment, nearly a quarter were earning at or below the poverty level.

CIR’s recommendations focus on better transition, career preparedness, orientation to civilian career opportunities and expanded opportunities to interview and have civilian career work experiences. These are complementary to work done by IVMF in our Guide to Leading Policies, Practices & Resources: Supporting the Employment of Veterans and Military Families, delivered to veterans and families through our Veteran Career Transition Program, and provided to business and industry in our online toolkit Veteran Employment Leading Practices: Tools for Engaging Talent.

A significant finding in IVMF’s Job Retention Survey is that there is a positive correlation between job tenure and the veteran being in their preferred career field.

Importantly, a significant finding in IVMF’s Job Retention Survey is that there is a positive correlation between job tenure and the veteran being in their preferred career field. Those who find the right job stay in it. And those who left for a better-fitting job also have longer job tenure. Former officers had longer job tenure than former enlisted members, particularly in their first job. While much of this difference may be explained by officers holding more advanced degrees and thus provided greater initial opportunity upon leaving the service, being informed about available opportunities is still important and applies to all veterans. While the Defense Department’s Transition GPS is focused on this, it’s clear that not all transitioning service members are gaining the required information or that even when they are, many are not making informed decisions about garnering a first post-service job prior to separation, or finding one with the right fit and compensation.

The silver lining in these findings is knowing that finding a post-service career that is a fit results in longer job tenure and better careers. Both BLS and ACS data demonstrate that veterans, overall, have a lower unemployment rate than their peers who never served, and average wages nearly $10,000 higher on an annual basis. We know that finding that fit is a key, because when veterans find the job that fits, they advance more quickly, earn more and remain in their jobs longer.

The even better news is that we know how to do this work. CIR recommends orientation to communities and the services and supports available to veterans in their local regions. This mirrors work that IVMF does in community engagement with grantees of VA’s Supportive Services for Veterans and Families.

We know many of the issues, we know many of the solutions, and we and other organizations are focused on implementing solutions. The barrier is that veterans don’t know what they don’t know. It’s our responsibility to help them become informed decision makers and consumers of services and supports—to provide them the essential information and tools for their use. The resources are there, such as our Transition Field Guide for Veterans; now we must ensure that veterans avail them. Part of this involves engaging their family members – they too have the ability to facilitate information gathering and decision making.

These studies tell us the resources aren’t adequately reaching veterans and their families. It’s time to make sure it does reach them, and that they use it wisely. 

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