SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — By 3 p.m. Monday, a statewide collaboration launched in September had connected about 185 military veterans with jobs.
Lewis Bradford, a veterans representative for the Maine Department of Labor’s Bangor CareerCenter, had tallied an earlier count on the back of a business card Thursday, where he’d scratched out 178 that morning and penned in 180. By Monday afternoon, five more successful placements and two more employers, totalling 135, had been added to the list.
The Hire-A-Vet campaign launched by the Maine Department of Labor and other sponsors has exceeded expectations, he said, nearly doubling its goal.
In September, Gov. Paul LePage set a goal of placing 100 Maine veterans through the program in its first 100 days. By year’s end, Bradford said he hoped they’d hit 200.
The campaign was part of the reason former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and members of his staff returned to Maine last Thursday for his first trip as assistant secretary for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, within the U.S. Department of Labor. He was sworn in the previous week.
In November, the national unemployment rate for veterans had dropped to about 3.6 percent, which is lower than the October rate for the general population at 5 percent. Still, Michaud said, there’s more work to be done to make the transition to civilian life smoother.
One of those early steps, he said, will be updating programs to help military service members return to civilian life. Michaud said his staff plans to rewrite the curriculum for the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program, a process that may include lessons from Maine.
Travis Hill, a Department of Defense contractor with the Hero 2 Hired program, has found himself at the center of the state’s Hire-A-Vet campaign. Every day he writes an email newsletter to approximately 133 participating employers, featuring anonymized profiles of veterans who are looking for work.
“Now employers are actually seeking to get in touch with us about employees,” Hill, who serves with the Air National Guard after 10 years in the Army National Guard, said.
In his full-time job, working for the contractor Interactive Government Holdings, Hill said he already has placed six veterans in jobs this month.
He attributes that partly to the new level of attention on hiring veterans from the state campaign and partly to a new level of collaboration from groups that deal with veterans in different capacities.
“This campaign is really the first time that we’ve had programs across different functions working together,” Hill said.
He said that level of collaboration helped bring about outcomes such as his recent placement of a veteran, who was facing a home foreclosure and other financial challenges, into a job at a T-Mobile call center.
Hill said Veterans Inc., which works with homeless veterans, helped find the person housing and T-Mobile sped up the interview process for the job.
By and large, the representatives who gathered in Portland last Thursday said putting veterans in front of employers is mostly a matter of style, teaching former service members to recognize that several everyday tasks in the military can be marketable as distinct skills for civilian careers.
Jonathan Farr, a recruiter with T-Mobile’s Oakland call center, said the company sees benefits in hiring veterans, whom he said are disciplined and excel at dealing respectfully with customers.
State-level employment consultants suggested the federal transition assistance program could do more to better frame the expectations service members should have for starting their civilian careers. The program also helps show veterans how to translate “hard skills” such as marksmanship to the “soft skills” behind that expertise — attributes such as focus, ability to work under pressure or learning new tasks quickly.
That also may include steps as simple as writing a resume organized by specific skills instead of a chronological resume of a military career with acronyms that could make unfamiliar eyes cross.
Mike Johnson, a state CareerCenter representative, said that can sometimes be a challenge for service members who want to keep skills and military accomplishments of which they are proud on their resumes.
Setting those expectations for a civilian career can be difficult, too, he said, especially when facing job prospects that don’t pay as well.
“That extremely good money is not here right now,” Johnson said.
Rich Oberg, a CareerCenter employee who specializes in outreach to disabled veterans, said veterans who learn how to market the skills they’ve long considered routine have great job prospects, something he said employers need to better understand.
He said he worked with one 20-year Navy veteran for whom entering the job market was frightening.
“You wouldn’t think that after 20 years in the Navy that they’d be filled with fear [looking for a job],” Oberg said.
That fear was misplaced, he said. After focusing on pitching her “soft skills” in resumes and interviews, he said, she had five interviews and job offers. She was surprised, Oberg said, but he wasn’t.