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Employment assistance program for veterans


MADISON, WI  (ANG)  By 1st Lt. Joe Trovato, Wisconsin National Guard  -  Midwestern military employment assistance leaders met at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Madison, Wis., March 7 to share strategies aimed at increasing employment for members of the National Guard and Reserve.

Representatives from employment programs in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin participated in the employment summit, where they discussed best practices to get more service members hired.

Unemployment within the ranks of the Reserve Component of the U.S. military has gotten the attention of the highest levels of the military and at the White House. Unemployment is a readiness issue, according to Frank O'Laughlin, the marketing and operations director for the National Guard Bureau. The issue affects resilience, retention, and ultimately a service member's ability to deploy as an effective member of the military.

"If we can help them with their civilian side of the house and keeping them healthy over there, then they're going to be healthy on the military side of the house and we're going to have fewer issues with our Soldiers," O'Laughlin said before the summit began.

Capt. Joseph Ledger, the Wisconsin Employment Resource Connection (WERC) program manager, agreed. He said unemployed service members are often not mission ready because of the stress unemployment can put on relationships.

"The people I talk to in [a traditional National Guard] status, their employment affects their relationships with their spouse, their family, their kids, and it can really lead to an at-risk service member," he said.

According to Ledger, nine percent of Wisconsin's Army National Guard force and seven percent of the Air National Guard is unemployed.

"That is just the unemployed," said Ledger. "That is not the underemployed or individuals that have two or three jobs that they're working just to make ends meet."

For Soldiers and Airmen returning from deployment, unemployment is as high as 25 to 30 percent.

With stakes so high, the employment assistance leaders gathered to collaborate and share ideas to reduce those numbers. Each state shared about their individual programs while also discussing how to work with employers and across state lines to ensure every service member is prepared to enter the market for a job.

They also discussed the importance of addressing a growing skills gap nationwide, in which employment shortages are projected in skilled manufacturing, information technology, and medical fields. Strategies for working with employers to train service members to fill those jobs was a key point of the discussion.

Ledger and WERC organized the summit, which is the first regional summit of its kind on employment assistance. Individual states have collaborated with other states, but never in a regional summit with multiple states. Ledger had high expectations as the conference began.

"I'm hoping people come and are open about different programs," Ledger said. "I hope we all leave with lessons learned, so we can better our states. Obviously every state is different. What works in Wisconsin might not work in Iowa, which might not work in Michigan."

"There is not a cookie cutter answer for each one of the states," added O'Laughlin. "Each state is going to be different, but there are some best practices."

Lt. Col. Tim Franklin, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program director for Illinois, hoped summits like the one held in Madison could continue in the future.

"The big value is that there is no one right way, but if each of us can take away something that we like from the other states that they're doing to bring to our state, that'll help us do a better job of finding jobs for our Guard members and their families," he said.