Continuing Ed

Why Collaboration Matters: Creating Sustainable Employment Outcomes

Why do community collaboratives matter? That’s the question we’re addressing in a three-part series on veteran collaboratives. It’s not enough to simply have resources available in a community—access and outcomes must be considered as well. The experience of the veteran matters not only for their satisfaction, but for the outcomes that can be achieved by a coordinated approach.

Gone are the days that one can serve in the military, separate or retire, rise up through the ranks at ACME over 30 years, and retire comfortably. We’re in a gig economy, and what would have been considered job-hopping behavior years ago looks like longevity these days.

Unemployment is dipping to the lowest levels in decades, but for young, minority, women, or disabled veterans, underemployment rules the day.

Young veterans and women veterans lag behind. We should be preparing now by paving employment pathways for the new 250,000 veterans each year.  We should be institutionalizing the better practices that include community collaboration.

  • Of those working veterans in the labor force, almost 341,000 (or 4.7 percent) fell below the official poverty level.
  • The Working-poor rate for veteran minorities is 6.4 percent compared to 4.0 percent for non-minorities.
  • The working-poor rate of women veterans (7.1 percent) was almost 3 percentage points higher than that of men veterans (4.4 percent).
  • The working-poor rate for veterans with a disability is 7.9 percent compared to 4.4 percent for those with no disability.  
  • Fewer than half (47%) of military spouse respondents to the Blue Star Family Survey were employed, and of those who were employed, the majority (51%) earned less than $20K in 2016-- with 39% earning less than $10K.
  • Among veteran respondents who reported their spouse’s employment status made a positive impact on their transition experience, 83% indicated their spouse was employed full-time when they transitioned from active duty to civilian life.
  • Among the 370,000 unemployed veterans in 2017, 59 percent were age 25 to 54, 37 percent were age 55 and over, and 4 percent were age 18 to 24

The trials of living a working-poor lifestyle are real. Being working-poor means being short on money and short on time, worn out, sacrificing self-care, family time, and, ironically, opportunities for professional growth.

Our recent collaborative efforts and the current economy of near hyper-employment provide short-term relief to many veteran employment issues. These efforts make getting a job easy. Finding a career is hard. Thinking systemically, let’s see which issue areas affect veteran employment.

  • Healthcare (including mental health) - ability to access requires jobs supporting sick time/PTO
  • Higher Education - choosing a degree program or certification that has positive employment outcomes, supporting student veterans
  • Affordable child care - families, especially single parents, can struggle to break even while working due to the cost of child care
  • Disability - knowledge of disability rights and the ability to self-advocate for accomodations
  • Financial readiness - credit scores can impact ability to secure employment
  • Housing stability - achieving and maintaining employment is exponentially harder without a safe place to stay
  • Transportation - getting to work, especially in rural areas, is difficult without a car
  • Legal issues - from criminal histories to civil and family legal proceedings, legal issues can create challenges for jobseekers
  • Transferable skills - there’s often not a direct correlation between military speciality and the civilian job market
  • Local labor market - even highly skilled, educated jobseekers struggle in a mismatched job market
  • Veteran interest and ability - especially young veterans and career changers may have difficulty choosing what they can sustainably do
  • Seasonality - tourism and agriculture-heavy economies can shrivel in off-seasons; workers often need two skill-sets to work year-round
  • Age discrimination - employers might perceive veterans to be too young, or, as people work longer, too old for a job

That’s a dozen factors, and the list is hardly exhaustive. To holistically improve sustainable employment outcomes for veterans, communities need to collaboratively engage stakeholders from all these areas. Some practical solutions implemented by workforce boards and veteran employment collaboratives include:

  • Partnering seasonal businesses to ensure year-round, full-time employment for workers (for example, oil delivery for winter and landscaping for summer)
  • Creating career pipelines within large local employers to ensure opportunities for advancement beyond entry-level
  • Maximizing OJT and apprenticeship opportunities by open-sourcing training plans for customization
  • Creating veteran-focused interest groups/orientations for new college students

Anecdotally, veterans sometimes report feeling let down when they learn what opportunities really exist for them in their job market. They’re promised a lot during transition: employers who value their leadership, education benefits, but these expectations are not always based on the market they’re entering. To see the benefit of fully-employed, engaged veterans in our local workforces and economies, we have to approach the issue of veteran employment collaboratively. With the right folks at the table, collaboratives can have meaningful discussions about creating resilient, survivable, sustainable career paths for veterans.

Questions to ask your collaborative:

  • What’s unique about your local job market?
  • Are there systems in place that are creating barriers for veteran jobseekers?

Kent Peterson serves as Senior Advisor, National Partnerships at National Veterans Intermediary. A strategist with 25 years of experience guiding organizations to clarify goals and foster partnerships, Kent combines his expertise in collective impact with military cultural competency to identify needs, frame problems, and develop collaborative solutions.