A few months ago, I read an article on the increasing unemployment numbers for military veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to David Lerman of Bloomberg News, these veterans, especially those ages 18 to 24, have faced an increasing unemployment rate, “even as the national jobless rate declines”.
Lerman writes about several young military vets in the combat arms who fail to find gainful employment because their job skills don’t transfer to the civilian economy or they fail to communicate what skills they have to civilian employers.
Although I feel bad for anyone who wants to work but can’t find a job, here is the problem: too many recruiters are pushing kids to military jobs that have no bearing on the civilian economy. Jobs such as infantry, artillery, or even military intelligence are not jobs that translate well in the private sector. Without attractive private sector skills, young vets are forced to lean on leadership, discipline, and other intangible factors of their time in the military. Their rationale is that those skills are so important, people would rather hire them and train them for a specific skill than hire someone with the skill who needs to be groomed to be a leader.
From my private sector experience, that’s not exactly true. Not all companies are looking for a military-style manager. And depending on what type of position needs to be managed, military management might not fit. Even as a manager, you still need to speak the language and understand the culture of the civilian job. Those are things people expect new managers to understand, otherwise you start at the bottom, where basic skills and not leadership experience are more important.
The ill fit of recently discharged young vets is not unlike those who graduate with Art History degree who wonder why the private sector doesn’t want to hire them. It’s because their skills are not marketable or they are not looking in the right places for their skills. Both of these groups, the young vets and the arts & sciences majors, need to understand what the economy needs. It needs computer programmers. It needs engineers. It needs scientists and mathematicians. It is also hiring financial experts, doctors, and web designers.
One should not aspire to be a middle manager without a niche.
In both cases, I blame the recruiters or the counselors. These are the people who should guide young people towards a career they will enjoy, yet one that fits the outlook of the nation. Too many of them are guiding people towards dead end jobs or degrees that are nearly impossible to fit the private sector.
Although they are only 18 to 21, individuals who sign up for the military or who are in college need to consider the economy when making decisions that will affect their future job potential. Especially if they think they will be moving on to other positions eventually. If a soldier loves being infantry and wants to be infantry for 20 years, God bless ‘em, that’s a career move. But if they are only considering being infantry for three or four years, and have no plan beyond that, like the art major who only takes classes because they are fun, that’s a problem.
Now before anyone criticizes me for being anti-military or anti-liberal arts, I am exhibit A on what I am talking about. I did four years in military intelligence then received a degree in English/Creative Writing. Both of which are completely not useful in the civilian sector. I have only worked outside of the Department of Defense or affiliates for my time in college and four months. If I wanted a job in the private sector, I know I would need additional training. And that’s what the money from my trip to Afghanistan will probably go towards.