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From Military to Civilian Jobs: Maine Program Seeks to Help with Transition
03/20/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

As the U.S. marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War this week, there's fresh evidence of the ongoing difficulty Gulf War II-era veterans are having finding work. As of last August, 11 percent of veterans who served actively in Iraq, Afghanistan or both since during the last decade were unemployed, according to data released today by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Jay Field reports, a state initiative aims to help unemployed veterans in Maine get more out of the expertise and work skills they developed serving in the Armed Forces.

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Maine has more veterans, relative to its population size, than almost any state in the nation. And it's the younger vets, between the ages of 18 and 34, that are having the hardest time finding work.

At a job fair for veterans at the Augusta Armory, 34-year-old Travis Whitman wears a suit and tie beneath an overcoat and has his red hair buzzed U.S. Navy short. He's goes from table to table at this job fair for veterans, talking with employers

"Fifteen years, but I don't have much to show for my accomplishments in the military at the moment," he says.

Whitman served as an electrician's mate on two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the USS John C. Stennis and the USS George Washington. It was his job to monitor generators and switchboards, and operate and fix power and lighting circuits, motors, electrical fixtures, voltage regulators and other equipment.

Whitman left the service in November and returned to Winslow to take care of his aging parents and reconnect with his wife and kids. "I mean, I have technical experience. And my leadership is in an industrial environment," he says. "So those are going to be the jobs that I'm looking for."

Whitman has applied for a few jobs online and has had a some interviews, but hasn't had any offers yet. He's thinks his skills would be an especially good fit with Central Maine Power and has tried, unsuccessfully so far, to get an interview.

"They also look for certification as well for those types of highly technical, industrial jobs," he says. "Maybe I'm just not doing a very good job translating what I've accomplished into what they're looking for."

Larz Nelson says the problem is one that many vets stuggle with, and is part of the reason why many returning service members are having such a hard time finding work. Nelson is a veterans employment representative with the Maine Career Center.

"They need to sell themselves," Nelson says. "They need to show the employers that they have the ability to take their existing skills and transfer them into what the company is looking for."

For some returning vets, it can be as simple as sitting down with someone and figuring out which of their skills to focus most prominently on.

"And it's just simply having them come forward and say, "Here! Here's all my documents. Here's what I've done for training and experience in the military. And then it's my job to apply that toward credit," says Catherine Carroll, with Maine's Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Carroll runs a program that helps expedite professional certification and licenses for members of the military when they return to civilian life. "So for instance, if you need 12,000 hours under the supervision of a master electrician in order to get your master of electrician's license, that experience can be revealed in those military documents."

Carroll has been running the program somewhat under the radar for the past several months. She's hopeful it will lead to more veterans getting jobs, as more of them find out about it.


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