by MICHAEL DAKDUK
Among the best things about December are the end-of-the-year celebrations. The conclusion of 2011, however, left many veterans celebrating less and struggling more to find meaningful careers. This past December, Student Veterans of America (SVA) gathered to celebrate our successes in 2011 – but remained conscious of the issues facing today’s generation of veterans. Fittingly themed “Combating Veterans’ Unemployment,” the 4th Annual SVA National Conference included a cast of keynote speakers acutely aware of the challenges military veterans face.
Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, opened the conference by acknowledging the effect of the economy on today’s veterans. “Here is what we do know,” he said. “We are in the midst of the toughest economic downturn in my lifetime, and though last month’s [November 2011] employment numbers were encouraging, the job market has still been slow to recover.”
Competition is fierce in today’s job market. And while many of today’s veterans were overseas, most of their peers were completing their education or had already broken into the labor market. However, there are several employment initiatives focused on supporting military veterans and their families.
Kevin Schmiegel, vice president of veterans’ employment programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, followed Secretary Shinseki by explaining the Chamber’s 100 career fairs mission. The Chamber scheduled 100 Hiring Our Heroes events throughout the United States from March 2011 through March 2012. RecruitMilitary produced 13 of the events in 2011 and is producing 5 in 2012.
So both the Chamber and Recruit Military have stepped up to bring employers to veterans and their families locally. I strongly encourage veterans to attend the career fairs in their geographic areas. And I want to take this occasion to remind veterans of two fundamental techniques that will make them more employable. Neither is extremely difficult; literally millions of people have used them.
(1) Network. Building a strong, diverse network will enable you to tap specific individuals in companies or industries for career opportunities. Is networking not your forte? My usual response is to tell people to suck it up and network anyway – and besides, there is another solution that requires less networking:
(2) Gain an in-demand academic credential. Engineering degrees, degrees and licenses in medical fields, information technology certifications, and professional degrees from top-tier academic institutions hold phenomenal weight in today’s job market.
With a new year comes new potential. Perhaps now is the time for you to pursue an academic credential or trade. The Post-9/11 GI bill (www.gibill.va.gov) is a remarkably generous benefit; SVA and fellow veteran service organizations fought for it over a considerable period of time. I encourage you to make yourself more marketable and pursue your careers goals by leveraging this benefit. But use it wisely.
And if you should find yourself on campus one day, look us up. The SVA (www.studentveterans.org) helps bring student veterans together and provides them with resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and after graduation. We have more than 500 chapters in all 50 states and in three foreign countries.
We are here to help. Thank you for your service to our country, and we hope to see you around the campus!
Michael Dakduk is executive director of Student Veterans of America and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.