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Veterans' Battle at Home

Veterans' Battle at Home

How veterans are doing at finding a job when returning home to Minnesota.

Editor’s note:

This marks the fifth year that TCB has taken a look at the employment outlook for military veterans trying to land jobs—or start their own companies—in Minnesota (see top of next page). Like all job seekers, veterans have benefitted from a steadily improving economy since the Great Recession. This year, senior writer Burl Gilyard pulled together this “report card” to gauge the current state of the job market for veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military family members. Also, Gilyard talks with a top expert on this subject: Jim Finley, director of veterans employment programs for the state of Minnesota.

Difficult to Track

Putting together unemployment rates for veterans in Minnesota is not an exact science. Two federal agencies that track the statistics don’t agree about the current rate of veterans’ unemployment in Minnesota. The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (at right) found veterans’ unemployment at 5.8 percent for 2016, the second year that the rate has increased. But the U.S. Census Bureau, on the other hand, reported the Minnesota veterans’ unemployment rate at 4 percent, its second lowest point since 2006.

The BLS’s methodology seems more comprehensive for labor stats, and thus is what TCB has looked at each of the five years in which it has analyzed this subject. One challenge for both surveys is that Minnesota has a relatively low veteran population compared to other states, and the sample size for both BLS and ACS is relatively small. Even the BLS acknowledges that the numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt, given the margin of error for the numbers.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development tracks state employment, but does not estimate job numbers for Minnesota veterans. Steve Hine, director of its Labor Market Information Office, says the annual BLS veteran unemployment numbers could be increasing because more job seekers are entering the market.

“The younger, more recent vets do seem to have reentered the labor market in higher proportion over the last couple of years,” says Hine. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

An Ally for Veterans’ Workforce Issues in D.C.

Since she arrived in Washington D.C. in 2007, veteran issues have been important to Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. This year, Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, co-authored the bipartisan American Law Enforcement Heroes Act. The bill prioritizes grant applications for federal community policing dollars to law enforcement agencies that will use the funding to hire veterans. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law in June.

“When veteran participation in the workforce is strong, our economy and businesses are better for it. Last year my bipartisan bill to streamline health care training for veterans with military medical experience—like combat medics—to get good jobs as paramedics and first responders was signed into law. This year I’m focused on additional common-sense steps to support our nation’s heroes in the workforce. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and I successfully passed the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act, which will help more veterans secure good jobs in law enforcement,” says Klobuchar. “I’m helping to pass the Wounded Warriors Workforce Enhancement Act¸ which will help boost the number of prosthetics and orthopedic professionals while making sure that our wounded veterans have access to prosthetic limbs, which are critically important to living an independent life once they return home.

Back to School

Minneapolis-based Capella Education Co. began as a pioneer in online post-secondary learning. Today many veterans trying to gain new skills are drawn to Capella. Across the U.S., veterans, National Guard and Reserve and military family members account for 18 percent of all Capella students. Capella has approximately 37,000 students nationally.

The online educator does not specifically market itself to veterans, says Capella spokesman Mike Buttry, but he notes that the flexibility of its offerings can make it easier for students to work it into their schedules. “They definitely trend towards our IT programs,” Buttry says of military students. “We’ve got programs that can kind of meet them where they are.”

Corporate Commitment

few years ago, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award for its support of employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve. The company continues its work to attract, develop and retain veteran employees.

“Last year we hired over 500 veterans [nationally]…we’re on pace to do about the same this year as well,” says Michael Ott, who is president of U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management and also serves as co-executive sponsor of bank’s Proud to Serve Committee, a resource group to support its military employees. Ott retired as a Colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 2015.

Ott says that corporate pledges to hire veterans need to be backed up with solid orientation and ongoing support for veterans. Across the country, U.S. Bank has approximately 2,000 veteran employees.

Xcel Energy and Cargill have been noted for their commitment to hiring veterans. Today, 10 percent of Xcel Energy’s employees are vets, in part because the company dedicates about 50 percent of its recruiting budget to hiring vets. Cargill, meanwhile, has made great strides as well, and in August received recognition from the U.S. Department of Defense, which awarded the company its Freedom Award in honor of its commitment to hiring and retaining military reservists.

Other businesses continue to pursue certification in the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program. To become certified, companies must demonstrate that they have programs and policies in place to attract and retain veteran employees. At the outset of the year there were 52 Yellow Ribbon companies in Minnesota. By the end of the year, that number is expected to have increased to 58 companies says Annette Kuyper, Director of Military Outreach for the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs.

Veteran Startups

The nonprofit Bunker Labs began in Chicago in 2014 as a network to help entrepreneurial-minded veterans start businesses. The Minneapolis chapter launched in September 2016. In its first year of operations, Bunker Labs Minneapolis Executive Director Tim O’Neil, a Marine veteran, says that he is seeing increasing, steady interest from local vets looking to start their own companies. The group’s e-newsletter now goes to more than 1,200 people; Bunker Labs offers monthly networking sessions for business-minded vets.

In January, the local group debuted its “EPIC” program, a 12-week boot camp for veterans working to start their own businesses. This fall the local chapter hosted “Muster Minneapolis,” a half-day program with local and national entrepreneurs offering a chance for vets to pitch their business concepts and ideas. The “Muster” program is being brought to all 15 cities with chapters of Bunker Labs, sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Comcast Corp.


Previous Years’ Coverage in Twin Cities Business

2013 TCB’s inaugural look at veterans’ employment examined why Minnesota had one of the highest unemployment rates in the U.S. for post-9/11 vets. The story debunked some misperceptions and concerns that companies might have held about hiring veterans. It also examined the “translation gap” between the language of a typical military resume and corporate job descriptions.

2014 TCB looked at a case study of a veteran who was grappling with stress-related challenges after returning to work from deployment in Iraq. At this point, unemployment numbers for Minnesota veterans were starting to turn the corner.

2015 The employment outlook for Minnesota veterans began to show marked improvement. One key factor was companies committing to improve recruitment and retention efforts for vets. In many cases, that effort involved hiring veterans who could help companies build programs to recruit and retain vets.

2016 TCB looked at the challenges of underemployment for some Minnesota veterans. The report also looked at strategies that have worked for companies looking to hire veterans, as well as avenues for entrepreneurial vets who want to start companies.