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Education crucial to build the veteran workforce

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Lt. Gov. Gilchrist speaking at the podium at the conference.The National Veteran Workforce Development Conference, held Aug. 14-16 in downtown Detroit, is a prime example of a strong public-private partnership that ties into Michigan’s mission of creating opportunity for all citizens, according to Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.

“There are so many people in Michigan who have so many skills, and veterans, perhaps uniquely, have amazing skills they have gained through their service,” Gilchrist (pictured left) said from the stage of the second annual conference at the Crowne Plaza. “It’s critical, then, that we create pathways for veterans and really everybody in our communities to be able to fully participate in our economy. Not just the economy of today, but the economy of tomorrow.”

The conference, hosted by the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency and sponsored by public and private employers and organizations, drew nearly 200 participants from across Michigan and the nation. This year’s theme focused on building bridges between education and veteran employment.

The unemployment rate for veterans in 2018 (3.5 percent), was lower than the rate for the general population (3.8 percent). But college-aged veterans – those aged 18-24 – had a much higher unemployment rate, at 10.6 percent, according to a joint presentation from Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVME) and the Student Veterans of America.

Employment and education assistance remain crucial to transitioning veterans. Consider:
  • Some 55 percent of veterans still report employment as a top transition challenge.
  • Nine out of 10 service members say education should play a role in their transition.
  • More than half of all service members say they are likely to pursue a different career than their military specialization, which can make education critical to their success.
But many colleges and universities still have doubts of actively recruiting student veterans on their campus, said Rosalinda Vasquez Maury, Director of Applied Research and Analytics at IVME.

“It’s time for higher education to step it up for veterans,” said Vasquez Maury.

She said colleges and universities could, for example, offer tailored, culturally competent academic advising, career services and campus counseling support to student veterans without perpetuating stigmas or stereotypes.

Schools could also facilitate and encourage collaboration between student veteran organizations and other student clubs and organizations on campus to share student veterans’ military experiences, expertise and interests with the wider student body.

From the U.S. Army alone, more than 130,000 soldiers transition to civilian life each year from active duty, the Guard and Reserve – and nearly 60 percent of them are aged 18-25, according to another presentation from Lt. Col. Keith Wilson of the Army’s Soldier for Life program.

About 1,050 soldiers transitioned to Michigan in 2018, but Wilson noted that Michigan is losing many more transitioning solders to other states than it is attracting from outside its borders.

Among the steps employers can take to integrate veterans into the workforce: recognizing and valuing their essential training (including teamwork, persistence, leadership and conscientiousness); making veterans part of the team (through mentorship, development and continuous feedback); and by expanding your network (with community collaboratives and higher education institutions) and also allowing veterans to build their networks as well.