PATTEN, Maine — John Birmingham is a man who saw a need and is working hard to fill it.
Founder and president of Warriors in the Workplace, Birmingham is dedicated to matching military veterans with employment opportunities through his national database.
According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics cited by Birmingham, more than 1 million service members are projected to leave the military between 2011 and 2016 and the unemployment rate for veterans of working age is three times the national average.
“There is such a need to match vets and jobs,” Birmingham said. “There is no real reason out there for why the vets’ unemployment is so high, but it’s out there.”
A veteran of the Maine Army Guard, Birmingham has long been involved with veterans affairs and spent several years touring with Empire Racing which runs teams in ARCA and the NASCAR world truck series.
“I volunteered with the team’s ministry and we traveled around with NASCAR,” Birmingham said. “Empire Racing would run races in honor of our fallen military men and women and visit with veterans at VA facilities around the country.”
On one such trip last summer, Birmingham said, while dining at a local cafe, the big news in that small town in New York drove home the employment challenges facing returning veterans.
“We were in this local eatery eating lunch in this town that had like maybe 800 to 1,000 residents,” he said. “Come to find out the hometown hero was this young marine who had been deployed three times to Afghanistan [and] when he came home that last time he could not find work and he killed himself.”
No one, Birmingham thought, should experience that kind of desperation after serving his or her country, and Warriors in the Workplace was born.
“It’s time to put an end to this kind of thing,” Birmingham said. “I began to ask myself how I can make a difference.”
What Birmingham did was design a website where veterans can search for jobs by type or location and employers can post available openings.
It’s free for the veterans to access the website which can link them directly to employment applications and allows them to upload their resumes.
Birmingham said he worked closely with members of the National School Transportation Association in developing Warriors in the Workplace and his contacts there, in addition to those within the racing world others in the transportation industry should open some employment doors for veterans.
So far, most of the job postings are coming from those sectors, he said.
“This initiative is specifically geared toward the men and women of the U.S. military,” Birmingham said. “It’s to offer them employment opportunities based upon skills they’ve acquired and perfected throughout their military careers.”
To date Birmingham can’t point to an individual veteran paired with a specific job, but did say the numbers of people accessing his website is growing faster than he had expected.
“Since last October when we started we have gotten several major companies within the transportation industry listing job openings,” he said. “That database is growing every day and the site is getting between 1,500 and 2,000 views a day.”
So far Birmingham has companies listing jobs from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Oregon.
What he would really like to see are some Maine companies taking part.
“I have reached out to some of the major transportation industry related companies in Maine,” he said. “I also have meetings in the works with several other companies in Maine including a chain of sports medicine gyms and the Maine Military community networks.”
There are other veterans’ organizations who work on employment assistance, Birmingham said, but added his is the only one dedicated to the transportation industry.
“It’s really a perfect match for the vets and these jobs,” he said. “Many of the jobs require the driving or mechanical skills they have already learned and the security clearances they already have.”
Finding that productive employment could be the biggest thing in a returning veteran’s life, Birmingham said, or the one thing that gives them the hope denied to the young man in New York.
“If we can change the life of just one person, it’s worth it,” he said.
Warriors in the Workplace may be accessed at warriorsintheworkplace.org.