Green Careers Give Veterans A Sense of Continued Mission

10/09/2012   John Toth
 
Military veterans across the board share many common characteristics: they have a strong work ethic, mission-focus and team-building abilities. But they have another thing in common: when servicemen and women leave the military, many have a desire to continue serving their country in meaningful ways. Unfortunately for thousands of veterans, any kind of work can be hard to come by, either because service members don’t know where to look for jobs, don’t have the skills and training needed by the civilian workforce, or simply don’t feel ready for the challenge of making the transition to non-military life. image

Veterans Green Jobs in Denver, Colorado is a nonprofit that was formed to help veterans ease the transition to the civilian workforce by matching them with jobs and training opportunities. Veterans Green Jobs’ main differentiating factor is that it’s dedicated to helping veterans build careers in the sustainability sector – in industries such as energy conservation, renewable energy, natural resources conservation and wildland firefighting.

With a mission to engage, transition and connect military veterans with meaningful employment opportunities that serve our communities and environment, Veterans Green Jobs aims to reverse the high unemployment trend that is facing veterans now more than ever before.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s summary report for 2011, released in March 2012, showed that the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans averaged 12.1 percent in 2011, and exceeded 30 percent among those veterans in the 18-24 age category. While the labor statistics indicate that overall veterans’ unemployment, incorporating all generations of employable veterans, hovers around nine percent, the statistics for our younger generation of veterans is more dire.

The challenges of finding a job in the current economy are expected to become more difficult: In addition to the two million who have served since 9/11, more than one million service members are projected to leave the military before 2016.

But the good news is that younger veterans have many places to go to seek help in finding their path toward employment, thanks to the promise of support from people and nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping our military veterans get back to work. Veterans Green Jobs is working with a number of private organizations to help improve the job outlook for today’s service members – including companies such as Namaste Solar, SolarCity, CALIBRE Systems and Summit Utilities; and training and education providers such as Ecotech Institute, Red Rocks Community College and Syracuse University. Veterans Green Jobs is working toward a goal of placing 300 veterans into jobs by mid-2013.

Employment Programs: Permanent and Seasonal Opportunities

Veterans Green Jobs’ employment program is unique in two ways: an exclusive green jobs focus, and one-on-one counseling. First, veterans get in touch via the web, at job fairs or other networking events, and fill out an application. Veterans who sign up for the employment program receive counseling to create an employment pathway that meets their needs. Career counselors assess veterans’ current skills and military experience, provide coaching to help them refine and shape their resume in order to match available job openings, and recommend any needed training or education to develop skills. Then, the program connects veterans with employers who need skilled workers and have job openings, and stays in touch to ensure a good fit.

Many of the initial partner companies are in the solar market. The renewable energy industry is burgeoning; as more residents and commercial industries realize the benefits of solar technology – including lower energy consumption, lower energy bills, lower carbon emissions and a decreased dependence on non-renewable fuels – more are turning to the use of solar for heating their homes and generating electricity.

The growth of this market makes it a suitable one for veterans. Danny Moore, a veteran of the U.S. Army, is currently enrolled in Ecotech Institute’s Renewable Energy Technology program. To complement his classroom studies, Danny is getting practical hands-on experience by volunteering for solar installation projects around Denver. Danny has a personal interest in finding a “green” career that is dedicated to protecting the environment, serving local communities and reducing dependence on foreign oil. The solar industry, for him, is a good choice – and he feels it is a solid option for his veteran peers too.

“Veterans are a good fit because they are team players, hard workers, dependable, and they like a challenge. They are also looking for ways to continue serving the country. Solar gives me, as a veteran, a sense of a continued mission,” Danny said.

In addition to signing up for employment counseling through Veterans Green Jobs, veterans may participate in seasonal employment opportunities in the outdoor conservation and wildland firefighting fields. The outdoor conservation program engages veterans in public land conservation and stewardship projects by providing hands-on experience in fire hazard reduction, trail maintenance, revegetation and preservation, watershed restoration and other projects. The wildland firefighting program engages veterans on crews that complete fire mitigation on public lands while providing certification and experience that equips veterans for real-world firefighting jobs.

Veterans Green Jobs partners with conservation corps organizations throughout the western U.S. – including California Conservation Corps, Nevada Conservation Corps, Utah Conservation Corps, Montana Conservation Corps and Student Conservation Association. In cooperation with federal public land agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and state government agencies, conservation corps put veteran crews to work on a variety of projects. In addition to receiving skills and certification training, veterans obtain first aid/CPR training, a unique outdoor wilderness experience, an opportunity to earn a modest living allowance, AmeriCorps education awards, networking connections with land management employers, and after- service networking with Veterans Green Jobs. Since this program’s launch in 2009, Veterans Green Jobs has served an annual average of 175 former servicemen and women.

Sarah Castaneda, a veteran of the U.S. Army, enjoyed the structure and direction of the military. Now, working on a fire crew as an employee of the U.S. Forest Service, Sarah finds similarities that make her appreciate her experience as a military service member. “There’s a certain structure with fire services that gives me a direction to go,” she says. “I like being outside, doing labor and working with others – and it keeps me out of trouble,” Sarah says.

It was Sarah’s training with conservation corps that landed her a job in firefighting. “The corps opened that door for me, provided initial training, and introduced me to people who could help me get into the fire community.”

Job-Seeking Tips

Veterans Green Jobs is determined to help veterans get first pick at jobs in the green sector. A big part of the task will be to help veterans make a successful transition into the workforce. With that in mind, here are some tips for veterans getting ready for the job hunt:

  1. Widen your net. When deciding where to look for a job, be aware that the larger the geographic area you include in your search, the higher your chances are of finding work. The narrower your area, the fewer the opportunities. If you’re willing to relocate, make this a conscious part of your job hunting process.
  2. Start making connections now. Whether you’re still in the military or already out, it’s never too early to build your network of relationships. Go to job fairs and networking events; schedule coffee appointments with any and all professional contacts; create a profile on LinkedIn. Connections with other people open more doorways than you can imagine, and for veterans transitioning out of the military and into the civilian workforce, the ability to meet people is critically important.
  3. Tailor your resume. As soon as you’ve made a decision to leave the military, start writing your resume. Use keywords that civilian employers care about, and use non-military terms. (To help you translate your military resume into a civilian one, look for resume-writing classes, seek transition centers on post, or go to Ladders.com, which charges a fee). For every job opportunity you apply for, rewrite your resume and your cover letter to match the specific job.
  4. Do your homework. Once you get an interview, prepare for it. Research the organization and develop your list of questions ahead of time. As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

These steps won’t guarantee a job, but they will steer veterans on the right course. Patience and flexibility will be keys to success.

What’s In It for Employers?

The path to easing veteran unemployment won’t necessarily be simple or fast; veterans who don’t already have the required skills will need to be trained, or may need coaching on ways to translate their military skills into assets civilian employers can use. But there are incentives to encourage employers to step up to the plate and provide the needed resources – and jobs – to veterans who are ready and willing to work. Specifically, a number of new financial incentives add a bonus that makes hiring veterans a rewarding option.

In November 2011, new tax credits were included in the American Jobs Act and signed into law by President Obama. These include the Returning Heroes Tax Credit, a new hiring tax credit that will provide an incentive for businesses to hire unemployed veterans, and the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit, which will double the existing tax credit for long-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities.

These incentives offer an attractive starting point for green employers who are eager to hire veterans – and want to experience the financial benefits of doing so.

Veterans should be aware of these incentives when going into any job interview, to help make the case for getting hired. When employers are aware of all the benefits veterans bring to the table, more and more will get inspired to make an offer.

To learn more about Veterans Green Jobs’ employment program, visit www.veteransgreenjobs.org/employment and fill out an Interest Form. And visit us on Facebook!

Lieutenant Colonel (Retired, U.S. Army) John Toth is senior director of Veterans Programs at Veterans Green Jobs. A decorated airborne-ranger infantry officer and combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Toth recently completed his military career as professor of military science at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He brings a wealth of experience working with post-9/11 soldiers and cadets.
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