Military downsizing presents opportunity, challenge for employers

March 16, 2014 - by: Tammy Binford 0 COMMENTS

A thread running through a succession of news stories is sending a clear message to employers: The military is shrinking its ranks and the pressure is on civilian employers to hire more veterans.  VeteransAtWork

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced new downsizing plans for the nation’s armed forces in February, explaining that budget cuts are going so deep and coming so quickly that “we cannot shrink the size of our military fast enough.”

On the heels of that announcement, comes news of the March 24 deadline for compliance with some provisions of new regulations pertaining to the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act.

The new regulations mean employers that are federal contractors will be required to adopt annual benchmarks for hiring veterans based either on the percentage of veterans in the national workforce—currently 8 percent—or on their own benchmark based on the best available data.

Even though the new regulation’s effective date is March 24, employers won’t have to alter current affirmative action plans. The new requirements will take effect with an employer’s next affirmative action plan cycle. Even with a temporary reprieve on the deadline, contractors are being encouraged to begin updating their computer systems and employment practices right away so they can come into compliance as soon as possible.

The handwriting is on the wall. Employers that are federal contractors—a major subset of all employers—are being required to bring in veterans, and all other civilian employers are expected to step up and help new veterans find their place in the world of work, too.

A look at the numbers

The unemployment rate for veterans has seen some improvement over the last couple of years, but the picture for the newest veterans—those termed Gulf War-era II veterans—is still worse than that of the population as a whole.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released information March 7 showing that the nation’s overall unemployment rate stood at 6.7 percent in February. The unemployment rate for all veterans at least 18 years old was slightly lower than the overall rate—6.3 percent.

But the statistics aren’t so rosy for the Gulf War-era II veterans. Their jobless rate was considerably higher—9.2 percent in February. The February jobless rate for Gulf War-era II male veterans was 9.0 percent and it was 9.9 percent for female veterans.

Even though the jobless rate for the newest veterans is higher than that of other groups of veterans and the population as a whole, the figures are better than they were a year ago, when the unemployment rate in February 2013 for the nation as a whole was 7.7 percent and the rate for Gulf War-era II veterans was 9.4 percent.

Tips for employers

As more veterans become jobseekers, employers have a variety of ways to find veterans eager to become employees. The U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop website advises employers ready to reach out to veterans to post their openings with their state job bank and then contact a Veterans Employment Representative at an American Job Center, who will help identify qualified veterans.

The CareerOneStop’s Hire a Vet Web page also offers a civilian-to-military occupation translator to help employers link skills developed through military service to civilian jobs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers the website that allows employers to post jobs and search resumes an offers information on incentives for employers that hire veterans.

The White house also offers a website with resources for employers through their program Joining Forces.

A March 10 entry on the DOL’s official blog tells of increased funding provided to the department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service that will support employment efforts through Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program specialists who assist disabled veterans and those who are most in need of intensive services.

The private sector also offers information for employers interested in hiring veterans. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has its Hiring Our Heroes program that includes a guide to hiring veterans. The program also includes the Hiring 500,000 Heroes initiative, which asks employers to pledge to help meet a commitment to hire 500,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014.

Tax credit limbo

Employers have been able to take advantage of tax credits for hiring veterans, but the future of that program is now uncertain. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) has been available to employers that hired individuals from certain groups, including unemployed veterans. But that program expired on December 31, 2013.

Guidance from the DOL states that although the legislative authority for the program has expired, employers should continue to submit WOTC applications because in the past, Congress has retroactively reauthorized the program back to the date of expiration.

On January 2, 2014, the DOL instructed state workforce agencies to continue to accept WOTC applications for hires made on or after January 1, 2014, but not to issue certifications for those applications unless the program is reauthorized.

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