Veterans face challenges finding civilian jobs

After years or even decades of serving their country, veterans of the armed forces often face huge frustrations searching for work in the civilian world. Although they are highly trained, often with sophisticated skills, their experience does not necessarily make them more attractive to private sector employers.

Jeff Killin has been in the army reserves for ten years, and spent two years in full-time service. But when he started looking for a civilian career, he struggled to find a job. Although he rose to the rank of sergeant, the lack of a post-secondary degree held him back and his military service was not enough to compensate.

“It did get a little bit frustrating,” he said.

About 5,000 armed forces members retire every year, with 2,000 of those seeking work.

“It’s a real challenge. It’s a challenge in the States too,” said Angela Mondou, a retired Air Force officer who is president of a charity called Canada Company, which helps match up veterans with potential employers.

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Mondou said the biggest problem is getting employers and certifying bodies to recognize skills that veterans learned while in the forces.

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“They may have driven 38 tonne tanks but that qualification doesn’t translate into a heavy equipment operator in the civilian world,” she said.

The Ministry of Veterans Affairs released a survey in October that gave one of the first glimpses into the challenges of transitioning into civilian life. It found that 62 per cent of veterans released from service during the period 1998-2007 reported an “easy adjustment”. But a quarter of that group found it “difficult”. The rate of unemployment for veterans was 8 per cent, slightly above the national average.

The Canada Company is stepping up its efforts to assist veterans, drawing in more than 100 major firms as partners while trying to educate them in the value of hiring former armed forces members.

It also connected Jeff Killin with a job that matched his skills. Since April he has been working for Newcon Optik, a Toronto firm that manufacturers night vision gear and other sophisticated digital-electronic devices. He is the International Sales Manager, in charge of selling the product to military people in Western Europe— a soldier talking to other soldiers.

“I’m working in an industry I know, an industry I’ve been training in for the past 10 years,” he said.

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He was the first ex-forces person hired by the firm, but perhaps not the last.

“It’s a question of integrity and authenticity in the experience that they have, that they’re able to bring to us. So we learn a lot from them,” said Newcon Optik President Peter Biro.

Private sector employers may be seeing many more resumes from veterans soon. The Canada Company says the rate of retirement is expected to double over the next year.

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