Making the transition

In 2009, Heidi Plach, a mental and occupational health professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, conducted a study of 30 young veterans between the ages of 20 and 29 about their daily life challenges, including work.

Of those surveyed, 50 percent viewed work as a challenge. This category included both finding work in a poor economy and readjusting to a workforce where they might have to start back at entry level, she said.

“Predominantly, one of the problems they had was translating their skills from military training into what employers are looking for,” Plach said. “Someone indicated working at Best Buy stocking shelves when a couple of months before they were leading troops and responsible for the lives of others.”

Other qualities that stuck out to her, Plach said, were the motivation, commitment, leadership, and hardworking attitude of the veterans surveyed.

“Twenty-three were workers, even though the majority of them were students and receiving benefits,” she said. “Their life experience really matures them.”

For many of the veterans that were surveyed, it was important to find a meaningful or relevant job equivalent to their skill set. Some expressed difficulty translating their skills on resumes and in interviews, Plach said.

“Work is essential to their well-being, especially a veteran who put their life on hold and risked their life,” she said.

The Milwaukee Center for Veterans Issues offers a range of programs to veterans, including employment assistance, said Lynda Horn, MCVI employment program grant administrator.

The labor market is just as competitive for veterans as anyone else entering the workforce, and can be even more difficult.

“Just the fact that somebody has been out of the marketplace for a while means there’s a gap,” Horn said. “We work with employers all the time to talk to them about what types of skills the veterans bring to the table.”

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