LAYTON — One of the most difficult tasks for enlisted men and women who have completed their time in the military — including National Guard and reservists coming home after being deployed — is getting reintegrated into the work force.
Whether it is with their old company, or a new job, the task for veterans is sometimes easier said than done.
Because the U.S. Armed Forces have pulled most troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the unemployment rate for veterans is 4 to 5 points higher than the general public, said Kim Watts, chief of staff for the Utah Office for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. The numbers in Utah are not nearly as high as the nationwide figures, though.
Since the employment initiative program was implemented in 2011, the ESGR, in conjunction with the Department of Defense, has been working to train employers through the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which enables employees in uniform to be reemployed upon their return from service to their country.
Though many larger corporations are familiar with the reemployment act, many middle and smaller companies have yet to understand the law, Watts said.
With 48 percent of the armed forces strength coming from the National Guard reserve, Utah along with every other state has deployed its National Guard and the Reserves units multiple times in recent years.
“Most of them are just like us with a 40-hour a week job and families,” Watts said. “The difference is they volunteer to be activated with the National Guard unit to be sent around the world, and when that happens and they leave their job, what does the employer do? Hires someone else. And what happens when the soldier comes back? That is why the ESGR was created to help educate people.”
Watts said that when veterans transition back into civilian life, one of the most important things for them to do is support themselves and their families.
“We talk a lot about reintegration and PTSD, but one of the biggest components for helping those situations is providing a living for their family,” Watts said.
One of the biggest challenges for reentering the workforce is that veterans have been living in a completely different realm, using lingo and military terms many employers don’t understand.
Such was the case for 29-year-old Bryan Otlewski, of Roy. He finished up his four-year enlistment and moved out to Utah just a couple months ago. Otlewski is currently looking for a job while he works on a professional pilot program. He recently attended the Hiring Our Heroes job fair put on by the ESGR at the Davis Conference Center, where nearly 70 employers were seeking to hire veterans to fill currently open positions in their companies.
“With many employers, when they ask for my skills and I say martial arts and rifle training, they don’t really understand what it means and say it doesn’t pertain to their company,” Otlewski said. “But that’s what I’ve been doing for the last four years, so I have to try and rephrase my wording when describing my skills. Coming to this job fair, these employers knew exactly what I was talking about, saying, ‘Let’s work with you,’ rather than the usual, ‘Leave us your résumé, and we’ll call you,’ but they don’t have any intention of calling me back.”
Watts says that is a recurring issue for returning veterans. They have set up programs to help with résumé building, interview skills, and include a military translation tool on their website, https://h2h.jobs, to convert military terms into civilian terms human resources departments understand.
Margarita Angelo, with Zions Bank Human Resources, said they come to the Hiring Our Heroes job fair regularly because of the caliber of qualities that veterans bring to their company.
“Veterans have all the skills we love to have in any job, such as always being on time, not being afraid to take responsibility, always getting the projects completed when asked the first time, and getting along with their coworkers.”