News: Mission to place military veterans into workforce continues
Story by Vaughn Larson
MADISON, Wis. - Last year, unemployment among Wisconsin National Guard members was estimated at about 9 percent, and a little less than 8 percent for Wisconsin military veterans as a whole. With the national veteran unemployment rate at approximately seven percent, Wisconsin ranks 42nd.
"Obviously we've got some work to do," acknowledged Allen Hoffmann, outreach specialist with the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
As part of Gov. Scott Walker's "Year of the Veteran" initiative, the state DVA teamed up with the state Department of Workforce Development and the Department of Military Affairs to host the Wisconsin National Guard Business Summit March 30, 2012, at Lambeau Field.
The event gave more than 130 business representatives a better understanding of the benefits in hiring a military veteran.
But the effort to connect job seekers with job providers did not end there. Under the state DVA's guidance, four smaller regional business symposiums were held last year in addition to the large-scale summit. This year, the DVA, DWD and DMA have hosted five symposiums with another five scheduled in the coming months.
"These symposiums are helping out," Hoffmann said.
According to Capt. Joseph Ledger, the manager of the Wisconsin Employment Resource Connection — a Wisconsin National Guard-sponsored program available to all service members — the focus of the symposium is a little different from the summit.
"Employers are more educated on why to hire veterans than ever before," Ledger said. "Employers get the 'soft skills' veterans bring to the table — they want to know how to connect with veterans."
Employers also want to understand service members and how their military experience translates to the civilian workforce. Col. John Schroeder, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, offered a brief primer to a roomful of state, county and private sector employers during a June 4 symposium in Madison.
Schroeder explained how service members immediately are accountable for thousands of dollars of equipment, and how they assume responsibility for a growing number of subordinates as they advance in rank.
"That should make you folks as civilian employers feel a lot better," Schroeder said. "They understand the importance of being given a piece of equipment that needs to be in the same or better condition when it is turned in."
Ledger said that WERC is presently case-managing about 900 people, and has opened up offices in Waukesha, Stevens Point and Chippewa Falls in addition to Madison. Since the program began less than two years ago, WERC has helped place more than 240 people into jobs averaging $17 per hour. By working one-on-one with service members, WERC staff members help clients with resumes as well as understanding how their military skills apply to civilian jobs.
"We want them to come through us so we can prepare them, so we're not wasting your time as HR professionals," Ledger said at the June 4 symposium. "We really want to be a resource for you."
Representatives from the departments of Workforce Development and Veterans Affairs detailed financial incentives available to employers for hiring disabled veterans or veterans who have been unemployed for several months.
Richard Vallin, the Wisconsin chairman of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, encouraged the employers in the room to sign a statement of support for the Guard and Reserve.
"That means I stand for the troops," Vallin said.
Hoffmann said that, as a veteran himself, he can't imagine the feeling of coming from an overseas deployment to unemployment.
"That's why we're trying so hard to get the word out," he said.