Serving the country then your business crain’s cleveland business

McCann, a Macedonia resident, served in the U.S. Army from 1984 to 1988, harnessing the skills and discipline he learned in the military for jobs in manufacturing and later in the trucking industry. He currently drives a big rig for a company in Richmond, Va., hauling goods throughout the Akron area for nine hours each day.

By the numbers, American servicemen and women are indeed getting an opportunity in today’s job market. The unemployment rate for this population fell in October to a record-low 2.7%, in line with a drop in the nationwide jobless rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For post-9/11 veterans, the unemployment rate was 3.6%, compared to a 10.2% unemployment rate among the demographic in 2009.

In February, veteran unemployment sat at 3.5% compared to the 4.3% for total nonveterans.

But experts interviewed by Crain’s said the data mask issues veterans continue to face in the marketplace, namely underemployment and the need for help translating their skills into the civilian workforce. Northeast Ohio companies, universities and support organizations are seeking to fill these gaps not just through well-paying civilian jobs, but via in-house programs and infrastructure designed with long-term veteran success in mind.

McCann, 52, enrolled in Cuyahoga Community College’s Truck Driving Academy in 2016 to relearn skills gleaned during his army stint in Fort Hood, Texas. After completing the four-week course, he passed his Ohio Commercial Driver’s License test and immediately landed a job, which he kept for six months before switching to another trucking company.

Tri-C’s trucking academy is heavily promoted by a larger on-site program called the Veterans Initiative, aimed at "educating, graduating and relocating" veterans into a career or employment, said executive director Rick DeChant. The initiative initially prepares ex-military for the college environment, offering refreshers in computer usage and other fundamental areas.

Through the program, Tri-C awards college credit for training in the armed forces or National Guard as evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE). More than 170 military courses are transferable for college credit at Tri-C, representing just one way Northeast Ohio can fill the regional talent pool, DeChant said.

Locally, employers are recognizing the quality of training and experience the military provides, DeChant said. Companies such as Olympic Steel, Swagelok, Parker Hannifin, Stripmatic Products and Westfield Insurance put a focus on military recruitment in their hiring practices. Meanwhile, security firms including Wackenhut and Tenable are seeking veterans to join their ranks. The OhioMeansJobs online portal has a military-friendly employer registry listing nearly 3,000 companies covering a wide swath of industries, from logistics to construction.

Makers in particular are looking to fill positions with people who have the skills veterans possess. The Manufacturing Institute, the nonprofit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, launched its Heroes Make America initiative in January, presenting veterans with industry-specific certifications in production, processes and quality control. Considering a manufacturing skills gap that the organization predicts could leave as many as 2 million future jobs unfilled, the 200,000 individuals leaving the military annually would be perfect candidates for such highly skilled work.

"Men and women coming out of the service have the ability to be trained," said institute executive director Carolyn Lee. "They have soft skills along with practical experience working on tanks and Humvees, or in logistics and the supply chain."

Ohio has one of the largest veteran populations nationwide. Once hired, this group’s re-integration into civilian work requires on-the-job support, said Bryan McGown, board chairman of Neovets, a Cleveland nonprofit connecting service people to employers and other resources.

In building its network, Neovets instructs area businesses in all aspects of veteran hiring, from a high-level overview of service branches to specific types of training veterans receive while on active duty. Access to Department of Defense Joint Service Transcripts provides companies additional information on military schooling and work history, but couched in civilian language.

Businesses in Neovets’ resource network match new veteran hires with already established vets to smooth their transition. The Ohio Regional Sewer District, for example, adopted a distinct military onboarding program and introduces new employees to veteran-focused health care providers.

Goodyear, which employs 120 full- and part-time associates with disclosed military status, hosts a resource group to assist in the retention and development of its veteran employees. Cleveland Clinic’s Hero Experience program offers veterans insight into the hospital system’s recruitment and interview process, and aids them in "civilianizing" their resumes.

"Veterans will see a job description that looks exactly like what they did in the military, but it doesn’t translate into how their own resumes are written," said Chris Reardon, the Clinic’s executive director of talent acquisition. "So educating veterans and hiring managers in how to best represent that experience is part of the work we do."

Too many vets feel their skills are being underutilized, say observers. A 2017 study from the Call of Duty Endowment found one-third of veterans were underemployed, 15% higher than the rate for non-vets. Misperceptions about former military personnel abound, mostly stereotypes regarding post-traumatic stress disorder and a perceived limited skill set among the population.