Military veterans and the current job market

Military veterans at Occupy Wall Street.

Chiquita Chavis with her daughter.

Nicholas Meyer.

Tess Vigeland: Well before we leave this topic of unemployment, we're actually going to turn the mic over to Nancy's colleague there in our Washington bureau. Our Washington bureau chief, John Dimsdale, who's with us. Hey John.

John Dimsdale: Hey Tess.

Vigeland: So you went out and talked specifically about the unemployment issue with some members of the military this week. What was that like?

Dimsdale: Well, you know, it wasn't easy to get them to talk, to open up about their job searches. I found that they're kind of reluctant to publicize the difficulties they're having.

Vigeland: Why do you think that is?

Dimsdale: Well, I think in part they don't wanna sound like they deserve any special attention. They know that this job market that they're retuning to is extremely tight for everybody, not just vets. And I got the impression that they didn't want to appear too discouraged.

Vigeland: Well, let's hear from one of them that you talked to. Tell us about Chiquita Chavis.

Dimsdale: That's right, Chavis. She's an army reservist, she worked in a bank here in the Washington area. She was called up for active duty in Afghanistan, and was able to use her banking skills over there, providing other GIs with financial services. And once her tour was up, she got her old job back. But the bank had gone through a merger, the managers had changed and Chavis moved to another suburb to go to school. So the commute became too much for a burden, especially since she had a baby. So she quit the bank job, but four months later, she's still looking for a new one.

Vigeland: All right, let's hear from her.

Chiquita Chavis: I knew I was coming back to a tough job market coming back, but I had so much confidence in my employer. They were extremely military friendly, so I had complete confidence in my ability to come back and kind of step into the same shows that I was in before I left. However, that wasn't the case when I came back, as the company had suffered due to the economy.

When I came back from Afghanistan, I found a company that was going through a lot of changes in the wake of what happened to a lot of banks. And as my company was going through a lot of changes, so did my job title and location. I didn't want to go back to the same branch, but I wanted the same job, the same responsibilities. I ended up taking a lesser position with comparable pay, but not the same amount of respect, not the same amount of responsibilities.

Well, life happened and six months ago, I gave birth to my first daughter. And because of the cost of child care, I would end up going to work, essentially to pay for child care. So, at the end of the day, the income really wouldn't balance out unless I found a higher position, which based on my military skill set I absolutely believe I qualify for. Or to stay home with my daughter, so I ended up resigning, because at that point, what I was getting paid -- between the commute, the cost of fuel -- wasn't worth it.

I've been looking for work, I'd say, for about four months. Some organizations that I went through to get assistance, particularly for veterans, a lot of the employers there were looking to hire veterans. However, there's a surge of veterans looking to be hired right now. So now the competition is, amongst us veterans, for those who do recognize our skill set. So it makes it a bit more difficult.

I remain hopeful about these jobs prospects. I'm feeling confident that by the end of the year, these opportunities will yield me a very good result. I'd like to think that.

Vigeland: Chiquita Chavis speaking with our John Dimsdale earlier this week. John, she certainly sounds hopeful, but you were talking about how one of the barriers that she ran up against is employers don't necessarily respect or, I guess, understand maybe the skills that veterans are bringing back. Can you talk a little more about that?

Dimsdale: Yeah, here future bosses don't seem to think of Afghanistan or Iraq as a place where bankers can practice their skills. But she points out that GIs need banking services just like everybody else. That would go for accountants or cooks or dry cleaners. The military needs these services, and the people who go over there to provide them are getting experience while they're in the military and that's useful when they return.

Vigeland: All right, let's go to another gentleman you talked to, Nicholas Meyer, who is in the Navy. And it sounds like perhaps he did not have that issue.

Dimsdale: Right. He was much more successful in his job search. While Chavis didn't find respect for her skills, he did. He's retiring after 20 years, an equipment mechanic. And as you'll see, he got a lot of help from the Navy in translating those skills into the private sector.

Nicholas Meyer: I wasn't really worried getting out of the military. I knew that I had marketable skills and I knew that I was very trained. The military helped me a lot in that aspect. They gave me a lot of tools to use to apply towards finding a job and actually working at a job. The Navy sends you to what they call a TAP class, Transition Assistance Program. They sit down with you, they teach you how to interview, teach you how to write your resume. I took that course about a year before I got out.

I was looking for something along the lines of what I was doing in the military -- maintenance planners, maintenance technicians. I had job offers pretty much from the day I started looking. There was a little bit of skepticism; I was turned down one job because they didn't think I had enough customer service experience. So, you know, I took that as a learning experience. And about three months into the search, I found a job up in Buchanan, N.Y. doing maintenance planning. I started that job actually on Monday.

I feel pretty lucky that I had this set of skills. I think that's one of the reasons it only took me three months to find a job, was because I had good marketable skills. I listened to what the Navy was trying to teach while I was in TAP class and I took to heart what they were trying to do to help me get a job. If you want a job, they're out there to get. You just have to be aggressive and go get 'em. And you have to show these civilians that you want the job, and that you will be bring something to the company.

Vigeland: Nicholas Meyer talking with our John Dimsdale. And John, you know, I guess what we're seeing here is yes, there are extraordinary challenges out there for everyone in the job market, particularly for these veterans. But it is possible to find one.

Dimsdale: Absolutely. They bring back skills that they've honed, learned in the military and that will serve them well as they transition back into civilian life -- if employers, prospective employers recognize that.

Vigeland: Just give 'em a chance.

Dimsdale: Exactly.

Vigeland: All right, our John Dimsdale. Thank you so much for those stories.

Dimsdale: You're welcome.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

Chiquita Chavis with her daughter.

Nicholas Meyer.

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