OUR VIEW: Addressing unemployment challenges for our military

March 15, 2013

The persistently high unemployment rate of our National Guard and Reserve members is a serious problem facing our country. In Colorado, Guardsmen and Reservists are among the 10.2 percent of unemployed post-9/11 veterans. Colorado Springs is particularly affected because of its heavy military concentration. The current economic recession is certainly a factor, but we can all do more to better ensure employment for the men and women who remain ready to serve when our nation calls.

Veteran unemployment has begun to receive due attention. However, we need to be more aware of how joblessness and underemployment specifically affect the National Guard and Reserve. These Citizen Warriors have deployed at unprecedented rates for more than a decade. They continue to sustain our fight in the Global War on Terror and respond to historic natural disasters. And though we are beginning to draw down forces in the Middle East, Guardsmen and Reservists are going to remain strategically critical to national security. We cannot overestimate their contribution to our military, and we cannot underestimate how struggling with unemployment affects their readiness to serve.

Our nation also should consider what we are losing by not having these service members as part of our workforce. Guardsmen and Reservists are trained in a variety of specialties, including logistics, law, nursing, commercial transportation, agriculture, engineering and security. And they have performed these jobs as committed leaders and team members in some of the most stressful and trying situations.

Three years ago, seeing this problem on the horizon, a coalition was formed in Colorado by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). ESGR is a Department of Defense agency with a nationwide network of volunteers who support Guardsmen, Reservists and their employers.

With the help of such partners as the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the U.S. Department of Labor (VETS), the Colorado National Guard, and recently the Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, ESGR has developed opportunities for unemployed service members and employers interested in hiring them.

Our team has begun organizing three day Military and Veterans Employment EXPOs. The first two days are aimed exclusively at preparing service members for the job hunt.

Classes are presented by experienced instructors; individual mentoring sessions are provided by HR professionals; computer labs are available with individual instructors to help the service member utilize all the tools available, such as H2H, a comprehensive web based system that is aimed at Guard and Reserve members, as well as, veterans and active duty members. On the third day, we bring in employers interested and ready to hire service members.

This formula has been effective in finding Guardsmen and Reservists jobs, and it has provided employers with qualified employees; but like the larger issue of military unemployment, it only works if we have volunteers to coach our service members on application and interview skills, and employers seeking out these service members for job placement.

ESGR can provide opportunities for individual and employers willing to support Guard and Reserve employment. Our next MVEE is scheduled on May 15, 16 and 17, for Colorado Springs, at the Pikes Peak Community College (Centennial campus). Our MVEEs are entirely free to the service member, military spouses, and employers.

I encourage everyone to find a way they can help address this national and local issue. Together, we all serve.

Richard E. Young, RADM, USN (Ret) is Chair, CO ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve)

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