Miki Griffen didn't think finding a career after spending six years in the Army would be this hard. She's had leads, she said, but no job offers.
Griffen, 26, worked for an Army aviation unit in Germany, assisting her company commander and executive officer, and since December has been looking for work as a human resources specialist or in administration.
During an interview Tuesday during a Hiring Our Heroes event in Omaha organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Griffen's voice oozed of frustration.
“It's really hard as a veteran to take your military experience and translate it into civilian terminology, especially with human resources because it's such a competitive field,” she said. “It's just really hard.”
Griffen, who grew up in the Omaha area and graduated from Millard North High School, is part of a young veteran demographic that's been plagued by joblessness.
Compared with the non-veteran population, far more “Gulf War-era II veterans” — those who were active duty or deployed during the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or anytime after September 2001 — are without jobs.
In May, when the national unemployment rate was 8.2 percent, the rate for all veterans was 7.8 percent. But for young Gulf War-era II vets, that number was 12.7 percent, up from 12.1 percent a year ago. In total, about 263,000 young veterans were unemployed in May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated.
In particular, the job situation for young female veterans has gotten worse. In May 2011, female veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan faced unemployment of 7.3 percent. As of last month, that figure was 12.7 percent, leaving women like Griffen doubting whether they can transition back into the civilian workforce.
“I honestly don't think I can,” Griffen said. “For some of us, it's just not going to happen. “I'm about ready to throw in the towel and go back to school, but that's hard because, with two little kids at home, day care costs are really high.”
The goal of the Hiring Our Heroes job fair — held at the DC Centre, near 120th Street and West Maple Road — was helping veterans of all ages and their spouses find jobs and careers.
The event is part of a national campaign to get 500,000 veterans and military spouses hired by the end of 2014. An April event in Lincoln drew 350 veterans and more than 100 employers.
Tuesday in Omaha, organizers said, between 300 and 400 veterans visited and roughly 105 companies — including Union Pacific, First National Bank, West Corp., Cox Communications, TD Ameritrade, Omaha Steaks, Pepsi Co. and Valmont Industries — were represented.
Job seekers visited with employers, discussed opportunities and passed out résumés. No on-the-spot interviews were conducted, but John Krehmke, the Nebraska and western Iowa franchise owner for Lubrication Engineers Inc., said he planned to schedule interviews with at least three candidates.
Several applicants were optimistic about their hiring and employment prospects.
Buster Smith, 27, is an Air Force veteran who spent nine months in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom in addition to a long stint as a military police officer at Offutt Air Force Base and one year at U.S. Strategic Command near Bellevue. Although Smith, originally from Killeen, Texas, is pursuing a degree in computer science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, he's ready to find a post-military career.
Tuesday, Smith discussed opportunities with the Nebraska State Patrol, Verizon and software companies where he could use his computer science skills.
“Honestly, I've just got a feeling that this is going to blossom into something,” Smith said. “Maybe not for everyone here, but for me personally, I feel like there's going to be an opportunity created today.”
For some companies, hiring veterans is good business. According to a report released Monday by the Center for a New American Security, hiring veterans can be good for a company's marketing image and also provide employees who are mission-oriented and good at getting the job done.
But the study, which was based on interviews with 87 individuals from 69 companies, also found that some firms are hesitant to hire veterans because of concerns about translating military skills into a corporate environment, negative stereotypes surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental conditions, and general skill mismatches, such as veterans without college degrees applying for positions that require them.
“If veterans are applying for positions that are not entry level and that they are not qualified for, they are going to struggle and employers are going to be reluctant to hire them,” said one company official surveyed.
Diane Kaye, the human resource manager for Omaha-based beauty products manufacturer Marianna Industries, doesn't have those concerns. She said veterans tend to have the work ethic, dedication and pride in their work that the company looks for.
“I would rather have a veteran, I swear,” Kaye said. “I will take them today.”
But it wasn't only veterans looking for careers.
Julie Ogg, 29, gave birth last week and on Tuesday jumped into the Nebraska labor market with both feet. The job fair was a starting point for Ogg, she said, and she was encouraged by some of the positions and companies she had talked with.
Previously, Ogg and her husband, who works at StratCom, lived in Colorado Springs, and finding a job there was difficult, she said. So far, her brief job search here has been more encouraging.
“You're not competing with a 30-year colonel for every position,” Ogg said. “It's not so daunting.”
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