U.S. energy executives asked Congress on Wednesday to consider reworking the GI Bill and to take other steps to better connect the legions of job-seeking military veterans with tens of thousands of jobs in their industry.
The executives told a House subcommittee that the number of jobs in the country’s oil, natural gas and solar industries has increased by as much as 40 percent since the recent recession -- creating scores of high-paying jobs for which veterans are qualified.
However, they face several hurdles toward landing those jobs, including resumes mired in complicated military jargon and a GI Bill that seems more crafted to help finance a college education than pay for high-skilled technical training.
“One of the challenges we’re facing is how the GI Bill is calculated and used for payment,” said Douglas Smith, president of Little Red Services Inc., an Alaska-based oil industry company. “It’s pretty complicated.”
He said an eight-week course could cost as much as $10,000 and quickly deplete some of the bill’s housing benefits.
“It’s very expensive,” Smith told a House Natural Resources subcommittee.
The issue will likely have to be addressed by House and Senate committees on Veterans Affairs and require a Government Accountability Office report on the financial impact of such changes.
However, Smith met later Wednesday with Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who has been involved in helping veterans find work, including the vocational component of the post 9/11 GI Bill.
Smith was joined at the House hearing by Michael Nasche, an outreach specialist with the oil industry firm Baker Hughes who said the government does a great job of preparing civilians for military service but less so in readying them to enter the job market.
One of his suggestions was job training for military personnel before they are discharged.
“We need a reverse boot camp,” said Nasche, also an Army reservist and Iraq War veteran.
That veterans have struggled to find work in the post-recession job market is well documented.
The national unemployment rate for 2013 was 7.4 percent. However, the fourth-quarter rate for post 9/11 veterans was 9.1 percent. The rate was 14.2 percent of those 18 to 24 and 10.1 percent 25- to 34-year-olds, according to the committee.
“And with the military expected to separate over one million service members over the next several years, we must continue to focus on this effort,” said Colorado GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn, chairman of the subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, who with other committee members asked how Congress might help.
Nasche and others also pointed to resumes filled with jargon the can obscure a veteran’s skills or talents, particularly the nine-digit Military Occupational Specialty code used by the Army and Marine Corps to identify a specific job.
The executives said veterans are often ideal job candidates in the industry, considering in part their experience with structure and chain of command.
However, connecting with them is often difficult because they don’t respond to job postings that call for five to seven years of industry experience. And often, making that connection comes down to a skilled hiring manager, who frequently also is a veteran, the executives said.
“The disconnect is in [them] knowing where to seek out opportunity,” Smith said. “They think their resume is the best opportunity. … And we try to take advantage of the skills that they might not see as critical.”