Joshua L. Bush had eight years in the Army under his belt, serving as a tank crew member during two combat deployments to Iraq, when he left the military and began looking for work.
After six months, the 28-year-old Dayton native finally found a job, as a bartender.
For veterans like Bush, it’s a familiar refrain. No matter how skilled they may have been in uniform, those skills aren’t always readily apparent to hiring managers in the civilian workforce.
“Nothing translates from being a tanker to going back into real life,” said Bush, who now lives in Huber Heights and is attending Wright State University. “It was hard for me to even get a job doing minuscule stuff. It was hard for me to get a job in general.”
The unemployment rate for veterans is slightly better than the rate for non-veterans, those with little education still suffer. For veterans who served after 2001 and do not have a high school degree, the unemployment rate is 8.8 percent.
Some veterans, particularly those who served after Sept. 11, 2001, say they fight a stigma of post-traumatic stress and other ailments because of their involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I think an uneducated employer may link those conditions they think are not the best for their organization,” said Timothy Espich, a Greene County veterans services officer. “A lot of that comes from a lack of understanding,”
Veterans and civilian jobs
Seth E. Gordon, director of WSU’s Veteran & Military Center, said employers should value military experience just as job seekers with a college degree.
“For most people in the military, they come out with a high level of experience compared to their peers,” he said. “A 22-year-old that was a tank commander in Afghanistan or Iraq is much different than a 22-year-old who just graduated with a liberal arts degree.”
“These are people who are managing millions of dollars of equipment and people and when they get out they’re told, ‘Well, you could be a barista,’” Gordon said. “The civilian world is not recognizing that training as being valid because they don’t have that marker that’s the college degree.”
A retired Army sergeant first class who deployed twice to Iraq said young veterans often have important leadership experience their peers don’t.
“Someone who especially spends 10 or more years in the military is at least a junior leader and there’s a great responsibility placed on that person at a young age,” said Matt Isenbart, 48, of Riverside. “A person could be 22 years old and be responsible for three or four people and have to tell them to do things that can place them in grave danger, and those are big responsibilities for someone who is basically just becoming an adult.”
One Miami Valley employer, Synchrony Financial, says many veterans who work there do not need a college degree, but they may gain one paid in part through a company tuition reimbursement program.
“We leverage our veterans network members, many of whom are veterans themselves, to help us with recruitment and translating military skills into role alignment,” Liz Heitner, a company human resources senior vice president, said in a statement.
The company, which has a large customer call center, employs about 1,900 employees in Kettering.
A bill in the Ohio legislature would make credentialing military skills easier in the civilian workforce.
“Ohio has taken steps to get certification (credentials)” for military service members and their spouses, said Caroline Biers, director of the Butler County Veterans Service Commission. “If you were a corpsman or a medic in the military, a lot of times those things that you learned could not be translated into civilian terms.”
Translating what a service member did in uniform into civilian language is another barrier many veterans face.
“There’s many ways to translate those skills,” said Cassie B. Barlow, director of the Aerospace Professional Development Center at Wright State University and a former Wright-Patterson base commander. “Oftentimes, it just takes the right person who understands what that individual did in their military service to be able to help them write that resume and help them translate those skills.”
Isenbart spent 26 years in the military and had difficulty at first learning to speak in “civilian tongue,” he said.
“I had some difficulty when I was hired in the civilian sector changing my tone and my verbiage and everything from the military to civilian language,” he said. “In the military, we speak a different language and sometimes it’s difficult to transition from speaking military tongue to speaking civilian tongue and that causes a little confusion sometimes.”
After leaving the military, Isenbart said he worked in the parts office at a tractor-trailer dealership, had a temporary job as a veterans outreach coordinator and was later downsized as an ROTC instructor because of program restructuring.
He is now enrolled at Wright State and hopes to get a business degree.
STEM jobs boost vets
Many veterans are attending college through the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which provides tuition assistance and other benefits to those who qualify. In fiscal year 2016, 784,111 students were using benefits through the program, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.
While college is still a great pathway to a profitable career, experts say, those without a college degree can still earn big pay if their training includes one of the so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math, said Rosalinda V. Maury, director of applied research at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.
In her research findings for the years between 2010 to 2014, a veteran with a high school diploma or a general equivalency degree in a STEM job earned about $70,000 annually, Maury said, while a non-veteran with the same education level earned about $54,000.
Veterans in non-STEM fields earned about $46,000 compared to non-veterans who earned $32,000 a year, she said.
While departing service members go through transition assistance programs, many Ohio veterans aren’t aware of the services available to them when they come home, said Espich, the Greene County veterans’ service officer.
Ohio offers job search and transportation help, financial aid, and aids veterans trying to receive college credit or job credentials for their time in uniform, he said.
“A lot of times when they leave they don’t know about those benefits whatsoever,” he said.
A place to start would be veterans services offices, which are in all 88 counties in Ohio, officials said.
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