Today, our nation pauses to celebrate the sacrifices of the men and women who put their careers on hold, leave their loved ones behind and embark on dangerous missions across the world to protect our daily freedoms.
As U.S. Secretary of Labor, I believe that Americans who risk their lives to fight for our freedoms should not have to fight for a job when they come home. This week, the Department of Labor unveiled a series of new tools designed to address the fact that the unemployment rate for the post-9/11 generation of veterans has climbed to 12.1 percent — more than 3 percent above the civilian unemployment rate.
Here in Maine, the unemployment rate for veterans is 13.8 percent, according to 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We can and must do better for our military heroes.
The most systemic challenge to employing our veterans is connecting the dots about how specialized military skills translate into civilian work readiness. For all of their battlefield skills, our service members haven’t been prepared adequately to market themselves when they return stateside.
This week, President Obama announced a new website — MyNextMove.org/vets — from my department where a veteran can enter one of 900 military occupational codes and “translate” it into a civilian job category. The site includes information about job opportunities, salaries, apprenticeships and institutions in Maine and elsewhere that provide skills training employers require.
For instance, a “Stryker Systems Maintainer” in the Army knows how to fix weaponized vehicles used to maneuver combat teams during urban warfare. He also repairs steering systems, hydraulics and power train assemblies — all skills that can be put to work in a body shop, at an auto dealership or by a municipal transit authority.
I think we can all agree: If you can fix a Stryker on the streets of Baghdad, you can fix a Chevy on a lot here at home.
The administration’s new “Veteran Gold Card” initiative—also unveiled this week— will provide post-9/11 veterans with six months of intensive job search, job coaching and job placement assistance. Veterans can download their gold card on the Department of Labor website at www.dol.gov and bring it to One-Stop Career Center in Bangor or one of 15 other locations in the state — veterans can find their local One-Stop at www.servicelocator.org. An employment specialist will help them find career opportunities and write a resume that captures the transferability of their military experience.
In 1938, our nation established a holiday known as Armistice Day to commemorate the day when fighting ceased during World War I. That moment came on Nov. 11, 1918 — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. Back then, we honored our veterans with ceremonies and parades.
Today, on 11/11/11, we call this holiday Veterans Day, and I have no doubt there will be a few parades. But there’s something more that all of us can do. Let’s make this Veterans Day a “day on” — instead of a day off — and make a personal commitment to show our vets how much we care. Getting involved with your local USO or Vet Center is a good place to start.
And employers: I challenge you to think differently. Take a fresh look at a military resume, because the best way you can honor our veterans is to employ them.
Hilda L. Solis is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.