“Thank you for your service” is a statement we have all heard and many of us have said, often to strangers in uniform whom we encounter in our daily lives. Mainers have a long history of stepping up to serve our state and country. How do we step up for them? How do we give our words real meaning?
At the Maine Department of Labor, our focus is connecting people to meaningful work and employers to a skilled workforce. However, even with Maine’s low unemployment rate of 2.9 percent, not all veterans are employed and there are still veterans who are homeless in Maine.
The department is committed to making sure that those veterans are not left behind. In October, the department partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to support a “Stand Down” event for veterans who are homeless. “Stand down” is a term with which active duty military members are familiar — essentially it is a break from combat during which they can shower, get clean clothes, hot meals and enjoy recreation. The recent “stand down” was an opportunity to connect veterans with an array of resources available to them including Maine Department of Labor services.
Additionally, we have joined with community partners and other governmental agencies to organize the Maine Hire-A-Vet Campaign. This initiative started four years ago with the goal of seeing 100 veterans hired in 100 days. To date, over 1,000 veterans and family members have found jobs with Maine employers. They are our teachers, police officers, doctors, nurses, construction workers, security guards, IT professionals, retail workers and managers, accountants, lawyers, business owners and more.
The primary goal of this annual campaign is to increase wages and quality of life for Maine’s veterans. We do this by raising awareness of the benefits of recruiting, hiring and retaining veterans. The department works directly with employers to help them fill their open positions and with veterans to match them with career opportunities. There are 230 employers participating in this year’s campaign, which ends next month. Seventy-six veterans have already been hired.
We also recognize the important role of military spouses. With frequent moves due to military assignments, the national unemployment rate for these spouses is about 24 percent. The department is also here to support them through our veteran’s services programs.
Collaborative partnerships truly make a difference in the lives of veterans such as James. James served our country as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the Army for 10 years. He had vacationed in Maine as a child and had dreams of living here after his service.
He echoed the thoughts of many who are attempting to start a new career: “You spend 10 years becoming the expert in your field, and then starting anew is certainly intimidating.”
He connected with one of our partners, Boots to Roots, and two days after arriving in Maine he had an interview with Bath Iron Works. He was then hired as a principal project manager during the Hire-A-Vet Campaign. “I had no doubt I could find something,” James said, “but I didn’t want to leave a job I already loved for a job that just paid the bills. I wanted to find a career with an organization I’m proud to be a part of and support what they do.” James found this match at BIW.
The Maine Department of Labor helps Maine veterans achieve their employment goals through specialized veterans’ representatives who work across the state. The staff are veterans themselves and are uniquely qualified to provide the support and expertise needed to assist and prepare veterans for meaningful civilian careers. More information on MDOL’s services can be found at maine.gov/labor/.
Veterans Day is a special day to thank our veterans. Our commitment is the same year-round: to guarantee that “Thank you for your service” is more than just words.
Laura Fortman is the commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor.