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Personal Touch, Teamwork Help Veterans Enter Workforce in New York

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  • June 5, 2011
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Unemployment has hit veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan particularly hard, with the rate approaching 15 percent for New York state veterans recently home from fighting in those two countries. In New York City, 17,300 veterans are out of work, an increase of 4,700 from last year.

A New York-based nonprofit has decided to tackle the problem head-on, designing a priority service track for veterans and their spouses at two of the largest One-Stop Career Centers in the nation — one in Upper Manhattan, the other in the Bronx. The Veterans Employment Transition Education Reintegration and Network Services (VETERANS) program, launched in February by Seedco, assigns a team of counselors to veterans with the goal of connecting them to the civilian job market.

The specialized track is tailored for veterans, offering services such as career coaching, resume writing, and job matching designed to link them to employment opportunities.

Veterans typically don’t realize that employers will find their military experience valuable and often don’t even mention it on their resumes, said Alex Saavedra, the organization’s vice president for workforce programs. In reality, they have a variety of skills that companies seek, he explained. Educating hiring managers that veterans aren’t only interested — or qualified — for security-related jobs is another challenge.

Perhaps a larger issue for veterans trying to land a job in the civilian world is their reluctance to promote themselves. “They’re not talkers,” said Saavedra, who also is the director of Seedco’s Bronx Workforce1 Career Center. Seedco runs the two New York career centers under contract with the city’s Department of Small Business Services.

After a veteran registers at one of the career centers, staff will conduct an individualized assessment to identify skills that are transferrable to the civilian world, employment goals, and what education or training may be needed. The result is an individual employment plan, including education and career goals, and advice on taking advantage of GI Bill education benefits.

Staff also tell veterans about the benefits the Veterans Administration offers, information that many recently separated veterans are not aware of. Six of Seedco’s staff at the two centers are veterans and serve as career advisors and coaches.

The services Seedco’s career centers offer veterans are the same ones available to non-veteran walk-ins seeking career assistance. The difference, Saavedra noted, is that for veterans the services are all linked in one integrated track.

“We want to connect with them when they enter the front door,” he said.

So far, Seedco has served almost 200 veterans.

The new program grew out of the organization’s desire to do a better job of ensuring veterans are given priority in the programs offered by One-Stop Career Centers. Existing legislation mandates veterans be given priority, but it does not spell out what services need to be offered. The VETERANS program is an effort to go above and beyond what is required, explained Natasha Lifton, senior vice president for external affairs.

And while New York City may not seem like a logical location to roll out a program dedicated to veterans — as it doesn’t support any major military installations — the need for specialized career services is becoming increasingly apparent in the region, with the demand expected to grow.

Young adults typically will return to their hometown after separating from the military, but they may find it difficult to reconnect with that community. The next step often is migrating to an urban area, explained Saavedra.

Large cities tend to attract folks who are figuring out what they want to do with their lives, he said. And when they have trouble trying to start a new career, they look for help.

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