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Effort to Reduce Unemployment Among Vets
03/29/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter

Portland area businesses and state officials unveiled a fresh initiative aimed at tackling the high rate of joblessness among Maine's younger veterans. Launched on Thursday morning at the downtown offices of the regional chamber of commerce, the Portland Veterans Network offers free chamber membership to those who served in the recent and ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Business owner Chris Tyll employs 3 veterans in the downtown restaurant he owns. He also chairs the task force that's implementing the program, which is free to veterans.

Tyll said it's designed to provide those returning from combat with job-seeking advice and networking opportunities.

"We're confident that through these networking events, we will help beat down an 11% percent unemployment rate among veterans countrywide," Tyll said. "What's even more staggering is 29% unemployment rate, if you drill down into the statistics, and that see that veteran that's aged between 18 and 24. 29 percent of the young veterans are unemployed."

Tyll knows first hand what's it like adjusting to civilian life after combat. As a US Navy Seal, he served 4 tours of duty in Iraq, leaving the military 3 years ago.

"The transition takes time. You leave a support network of guys that you've spent hours with in extreme situations and then all of a sudden you're out in the middle of a population that really doesn't understand," said Tyll.

According to Tyll, it's this lack of understanding among some employers that contributes to the high jobless rate among veterans. Addressing the crowd, Tyll cited an example of a former army sergeant who's civilian employer initially made the mistake of putting the young man to work in a cubicle with his back to the door.

"As the door would slam throughout the day he would become startled. Once that employer put a rear view mirror in the cubicle, his work percentages went up drastically," he said.

Tyll said many civilian employers are often unaware of the unique skill set possessed by many vets due to their experience in combat.

"And those experiences transcend to stress management, leadership, productivity, all these things that the military has taught our veterans, those apply directly to the workforce," he said.

For many soldiers on deployment, finding a secure job back in the non-military world weighs heavily on the mind, according to Sergeant Jamie Grant. He's with the Maine Army National Guard and he served in operation Iraqi freedom beginning in 2004.

"It certainly is a stresser when you are deployed is coming back and wondering if you have a job, or if you don't have a job when you leave how you're going to obtain one when you get back," Grant said.

Grant said he was fortunate to have a family business waiting for him when he returned from his 12 month tour, but some of his colleagues weren't so lucky.

"There were many soldiers deployed with me that didn't have a job when they returned and it was kind of hard navigating through that system and trying to figure out how you're skill sets transitioned into the civilian side, and resume writing was always people's weakness, and interviewing skills," said Grant.

As well as offering help on job search techniques - resume writing, mock interviews and so forth, The Portland Veterans Network aims to hook vets up with sponsors, or mentors.

Maine First Lady.Ann LePage at Press Conference"That sponsor will connect to them, introduce them to the right people and generally make it an undaunting experience to come to a meeting where there are 300 people wearing suits and look like they've known each other for ever. We have over 200 events a year, so we think we can put them in front of up to a thousand different potential employers," said Godfrey Wood, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber.

State officials estimate there are about 200 veterans in the Portland area who could benefit from this program.

Wood said he's spoke to the two next largest chambers in the state, and he's hopeful the network will expand.

"I'm hoping that we could create an organization called the Maine Veterans Network, and you would have the Bangor Veterans Network, the Androscoggin Valley and so on," Wood said. "I think it can be done."

Finding employment for veterans is of particular importance in Maine, where more than 12 percent of the population are vets - that compares to a national average of around 7%.

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