Veterans' Employment Improves, but Still Has a Fair Way to Go

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American Soldier in his office
Mie Ahmt
On Veterans Day 2014, the good economic news for veterans is that employment rate for vets is up, and the underemployment rate is down. The bad news is, there is a long way to go.

According to a new study conducted by Harris Poll, 33 percent of companies interviewed claimed to be actively recruiting veterans. That's up from 20 percent in 2011, just after we emerged from the depths of the Great Recession, and 27 percent in 2013. In addition, 31 percent of all companies said that they had recently hired veterans who had seen active duty within the previous 12 months.

"Several years ago, more U.S. companies started making pledges to recruit and train returning U.S. veterans, and we are beginning to see those efforts pay off," Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, was quoted in the release.

The news is good because veterans have faced a tougher time in the employment market than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2013, the unemployment rate for veterans who had been on active duty anytime since September 2001 was 9 percent. The jobless rate for all veterans, no matter when they served, dropped to 6.6 percent last year. That compared to a general rate that started at 7.9 percent at the beginning of 2013 and ended at 6.7 percent.

Veterans as a group face a number of hurdles to employment, according to the Mental Health Association of New York City. The issues include higher disability rates, lack of civilian work experience, and difficulties in translating their military work experience into something appropriate for the private sector.

The converse of the recruitment picture is also true: Roughly two-thirds of companies don't actively seek to recruit vets. And 57 percent of veterans don't think that identifying themselves as vets helps them get jobs, although 40 percent of employers say they pay extra attention to job applications from veterans. All other things being equal between two candidates, if one had served in the military and the other had not, 68 percent of companies say they'd be more likely to hire the vet.

Teamwork, Discipline, Respect and Integrity

Among the attributes employers most often credited veterans with bringing to the table were the ability to work in a team (62 percent), a disciplined approach to work (62 percent) and respect and integrity (58 percent).

The top 10 types of work that companies recruited vets for were:
  1. Information technology manager/network administrator (16 percent)
  2. Customer service rep (14 percent)
  3. Computer programmer (14 percent)
  4. Engineer (13 percent)
  5. Administrative assistant/secretary (13 percent)
  6. Accountant (13 percent)
  7. Sales representative (12 percent)
  8. Other computer or Internet specialist (11 percent)
  9. Mechanic (10 percent)
  10. Machine operator/assembly worker/production worker (10 percent)
Not Sure What to Do

However, not all the jobs were all they could be. Of the 286 veterans polled, 23 percent reported that they were underemployed -- down from 32 percent in 2013.

Two-thirds of vets did say that they were satisfied with their jobs, up from 59 percent in 2013. Twenty-four percent plan on changing jobs next year, vs. 20 percent last year. And 81 percent said that they came out of the military feeling prepared to enter the workforce; last year the number was 68 percent. However, 37 percent didn't know how to write a resume when they left active duty, and 33 percent didn't know what civilian industries would be the best places to put their military experience to use.

Only 38 percent took advantage of GI Bill tuition credits to advance their education.

The online survey also involved 2,440 hiring managers and human resources professionals.
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