Army veteran medic Nick Colgin at Iraq Afghanistan War Veterans of America offices, Nov. 10, 2011 in New York. After discharge, he hoped to become a first responder but was unaware of what certificate he'd need or what a resume was.
"Mass. Vets Tout Skills with Help from Comcast"
Op-Ed, Boston Globe
February 13, 2012
Author: Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
RECENT DATA showing declines in the unemployment rate and first-time unemployment insurance requests is hopeful news, if a long time coming. But there has been a stubborn persistence in the data that makes little sense given the emotional sentiment to fix it: the numbers of veterans who remain unemployed. The rates of unemployment can be, for Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans ages 18 to 24, more than double the national rate. This is a systemic problem and one that seems to be resisting change.
It may finally be time to take a cue from the romantic holiday we celebrate tomorrow: finding and keeping the perfect match is often about good communication. If women are from Venus, and men from Mars, where is a an Army staff sergeant from?
Meet Ronald, from Hull. He's a people person, who likes using his hands, but doesn't seem to like talking about himself. Nikea is a charming woman from Dorchester who is looking for a match that will appreciate her focused and organized qualities. James from Norfolk enjoys riding his motorcycle, and believes people who are perpetually late are rude.
Finding a job can be as frustrating as finding true love, and definitely not as fun. Comcast Corp. is trying to remedy that and has launched a "Hire A Veteran On Demand" program which hopes to link returning soldiers like Ronald, Nikea, and James to jobs in the civilian sector. The program is a series of video profiles of unemployed veterans talking about what they did while serving, what skills they acquired, and why that makes them good employees. The 26 veterans were picked by the Department of Veterans' Services from the over 37,000 veterans that have returned to Massachusetts since 9/11.
It's an interesting twist for a company that has had its fair share of contentious publicity regarding services and fees. Instead of solely focusing on hiring the veterans themselves, Comcast focused on — in military speak — its core competencies. It donated its video technology, news host, television studio, and even makeup artists to allow veterans to simply chat about themselves and what they actually did in the military.
There is something both charming and uncomfortable about the videos, and that may be a clue for some of the challenges facing veterans. The veterans seem so nervous, often being fed leading questions ("tell me what you like to do when not in Iraq?") to get themselves to open up. They are clearly not used to talking about themselves.
The military, said Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans' Services Coleman Nee, who helped conceive of this program with Comcast, is "simply not a culture of self-promotion. It is a culture of 'us." " When young recruits join the military, they are assigned to their divisions; there are no interviews, no recommendations, no thick-papered resumes.
Comcast will pilot the initiative for a few more weeks as it steers employers to Veterans' Services. But the sentiment is what may be the most lasting impact of the program. The videos may actually be less about the perfect match and more about finding a common language.
What does a staff sergeant actually do? A lieutenant? A major? Less than
1 percent of our population serves in the military, and civilian employers often have no idea what these words mean. To hear veterans actually say what they do in those jobs will help a society that is more prepared to contribute to America's security efforts, but has no idea how — in military speak — to operationalize that sentiment.
Veterans need jobs, but they also need training on how to sell themselves to employers. So few veterans are actually combat soldiers; most are experts in logistics, finance, management, human resources, or payroll. And even companies who may not be able to hire veterans can help; head-hunting firms can begin to offer resume-shaping workshops, for example.
The state and Comcast may not put a significant dent in national veteran unemployment rates, but they've moved the effort along by trying to overcome a more fundamental challenge: how to translate military assignments into civilian sector needs.
It may not be the universal language of love, but closing the linguistic gap between skills acquired in war and the impenetrable names the military assigns basic functions is no small — in military speak — mission.
The new "Hire a Vet" program can be found in the "get local" category, coincidentally right under the "Dating on Demand" section.
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