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Veterans Help Fill Employment-skilled Labor Gap in Washington State

An increasing number of Washington companies are looking to the nearly 594,000 veterans in our state to fill jobs.

Washington state’s job growth is about 40 percent higher than the rest of the nation, and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. A recent report by The Boston Consulting Group and The Washington Roundtable estimates that our state job-growth rate will be nearly triple the national average by 2021, with much of the demand coming from major transportation and construction projects around King County and at Sea-Tac Airport. At the same time, there’s already a shortage of skilled workers.

“We surveyed some of the largest and most prominent companies in the Puget Sound region, and 40 percent reported hiring people who are under-skilled out of a necessity to fill positions,” says Joel Janda, partner and managing director, The Boston Consulting Group. “Half of those companies said if the employment-skilled labor gap keeps widening, they will consider moving out of the Puget Sound region.”

Filling the labor gap with veterans

An increasing number of Washington companies, particularly in aerospace and port-related industries, are looking to the nearly 594,000 veterans in our state to fill jobs. In fact, nearly 10 percent of the Port of Seattle’s employee base have served in or continue to serve in the military.

“The military is excellent preparation for any number of jobs,” says Fred Melvin, Operations Director at Work of Honor, a local organization that connects veterans with other vets and employers, both online and at networking events. “Most veterans have had a lot of responsibility, leadership training and experience in a broad range of skills. And then there are the intangible qualities — organizational ability, resourcefulness, teamwork, and a can-do attitude — that are valuable in any workplace.”

Melvin interviewed thousands of people as a military police officer for 14 years in the U.S. Army. He says those communication skills have transferred over into his current job interacting with hiring managers, recruiters, and veterans through social media, phone, and email.

On-the-job training for veterans

One hurdle that veterans face in transitioning to a civilian career is that while they may have the skills they often don’t know how to convey their experience on a résumé. “Recruiters are looking for workplace experience in their company’s industry,” Melvin says. “They may, for example, have been in charge of a team of people as a supply sergeant, but as a veteran, they describe their managerial experience in a different way or may have slightly different skill capabilities than their civilian counterpart.”

That’s where some companies are helping with on-the-job training programs and workplace support groups for vets.

The Port of Seattle offers a resource group for veterans, called Military Veterans at the Port, that promotes personal and professional development through brown bag lunches with experts and peer networking opportunities.

“It can be rough transitioning from active duty to civilian employment,” says Rob Lane, who served in the U.S. Army for more than 13 years and is now senior manager for finance and logistics, Marine Maintenance Department at the Port of Seattle as well as chair of the MVP group. “It helps to have a supportive workplace.”

The Port of Seattle is also one of a handful of organizations, including the City of Tacoma and Evergreen Fire and Security, that offer a paid internship for vets. The Veterans Fellowship Program provides short-term (six-month) employment with full health care benefits that assists veterans in the following areas:

  • Identifying transferable skills
  • Exposure to a civilian work environment
  • Career assistance
  • Exposure to corporate business practices
  • Mentoring
  • Résumé and interview assistance​

“Creating more on-the-job training programs for veterans is a win-win situation for employers and veterans transitioning to civilian life,” Janda says. “As the employment-skilled labor gap becomes more acute, more companies are seeing the benefits of developing this highly motivated labor pool.”

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