WASHINGTON – Two years ago, the civilian employment situation for members of the National Guard and reserve was bleak.
The economy had taken a downturn, causing unemployment rates nationwide to rise, including rates for veterans. But particularly troubling to Ronald Young, executive director of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, was that unemployment among reserve component members hit a record high of 13 percent in 2011.
“It was higher than for the general population and almost double that of the veteran population,” Young said. “So we took a very aggressive approach to instituting employment initiative programs across the country to get at that challenge.”
The cornerstone of that effort was the “Hero 2 Hired” program, created to make it easy for reserve-component service members to connect to and find jobs with military-friendly companies.
“We put together a comprehensive program that used a very high-tech approach,” Young said, including online career exploration tools, military-to-civilian skills translations, education and training resources and even a mobile app.
To support the program, 56 employment transition coordinators, many of them ESGR volunteers, fanned out to every corner of the United States to provide career counseling and resume assistance to job-seekers and to interface with employers seeking to fill positions.
“We saw this as an opportunity to leverage the 4,900 ESGR volunteers and their day-to-day interface with employers to talk about what great business sense it makes to employ Guard and reserve members,” Young said.
In addition, a vehicle known as the Hero 2 Hired mobile job store regularly rolls into career fairs and other venues to deliver the job search resources where it’s easily accessible by the military community. Small kiosks that rotate between Guard and reserve units also help increase awareness of the program.
Guard and reserve members make great employees, Young said. They’re strong leaders and outstanding followers, exhibiting loyalty, dedication and motivation to their missions. They demonstrate other attributes that employers are clamoring for: professionalism, responsibility, punctuality, a “can-do” attitude, understanding of diversity and an ability to remain calm under pressure, among them.
But when Young met with corporate leaders during a Clinton Global Initiative session in 2011, he recognized that employers didn’t know how to tap into this potential.
“Across the board, the one thing they said was, ‘We want to hire them. We just don’t know how to get access to them,’” he said.
Two years since its standup, Hero 2 Hired is helping to bridge that gap. Almost 20,000 employers now post their job announcements on the Hero 2 Hired jobs website. The site, which 151,000 service members and their spouses now use, provides not only leads about job openings but also information about interview skills, resume templates and links to employment resources.
Young attributes more than 11,000 hires to the program. In addition, through Hero 2 Hired’s partnership with the Joining Forces initiative led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and other public- and private-sector job programs, he estimates that 100,000 reserve component members and veterans have landed jobs.
“This is a way to link together those looking for jobs and those looking to fill jobs with veterans and Guard and reserve members,” Young said. “We are just one of the contributing partners working at attacking this particular issue. But we believe we are having a definite impact.”
A recent DOD survey of Guard and reserve members revealed that their unemployment rate had dropped 2 percent, Young reported.
“So this is trending in the right direction, and our hope is that it will continue going that way,” he said.
But the best measure of success, he said, are the testimonials of those who have benefitted directly from the program.
A 23-year old Air National Guard member was desperate for a job -- any job -- when he met with Employment Transition Coordinator Joe Fletcher. The Airman had been living in his car for the previous three days to help save money for gas to return home after a drill weekend. He acknowledged during his meeting with Fletcher that he didn’t have a resume or know how to pursue a job interview.
Fletcher helped him create a resume that highlighted his skills in welding and operating heavy equipment and helped him prepare for an interview. It didn’t take long for the Airman to land a job that paid $30 an hour.
A former Airmen who started using the Hero 2 Hired job website before separating from the military said it worked better than any other employment site he had tried. As a result, he landed a position as a shift maintenance supervisor for a commercial airline with a starting date just six days after leaving the military.
A Louisiana National Guardsman said Hero 2 Hired helped him get in contact with several companies of varying sizes, getting interview opportunities and several job offers.
Sue Wegner, wife of Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ralph Wegner, credited the program with helping her obtain a job as a laboratory test specialist.
“You helped me with rewriting my resume in a more employer-friendly way, along with helping with interview tips,” she said. “Thanks to you, I had great success. Within two weeks of leaving you, I had two job interviews, and a week later I had job offers from (two) companies!”
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