Veteran Underemployment

By Dan Griffiths

What is Veteran Underemployment and How Might We Address It?

Nearly 1/3 of veteran job seekers are underemployed.

There is a difference between being unemployed and underemployed. Unemployed means you don’t have a job, while underemployment means the job you have is insufficient. Underemployment is the condition in which people in a labor force are employed less than full-time or at jobs inconsistent with respect to their experience, training, or economic needs. With regards to assisting veterans who are seeking to improve their current employment condition or seeking to secure a job after transitioning from service, we need to consider the issue that some veterans are experiencing underemployment when they have higher qualifications than the position uses or requires. Underemployment frequently leaves veterans struggling to make ends meet or feeling like they’re not meeting their full potential.

Recent studies have indicated veteran underemployment may result from the transition process itself, which often causes veterans to take less-than-optimal employment to replace income immediately after service, particularly in situations where transitioning service members (TSMs) have families to support and cannot afford an extended job search or training period.[1]

Using resume and job search activity information, ZipRecruiter and the Call of Duty Endowment compiled data about the employment health of veterans in the civilian workplace. The report, “Challenges on the Home Front: Underemployment Hits Veterans Hard,” notes areas where veterans differ from their civilian counterparts in education, employment, geography, and job search activity. The study revealed that nearly one-third of veteran job seekers are underemployed, a rate 15.6% higher than non-veteran job seekers, and that veterans tend to leave their first job after military service faster than non-veterans. From a long-term perspective though, veteran turnover is lower throughout their career trajectories when compared to their non-veteran counterparts.[2]

Addressing Veteran Underemployment

Veteran employment programs across the federal and state government sectors may consider:

  • Stepping up collaboration with agencies supporting the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to ensure TSMs are exposed to the full range of no-cost training available to them. This training will enable “best fit” employment from the start. One solution in this effort may be the Employment Navigator and Partnership Pilot (ENPP), a DOL/DOD TAP partnership where Employment Navigators assist TSMs and their spouses in securing meaningful and last post-separation careers.
  • Following up on the employment status of veterans who, due to immediate need, have already committed to less-than-optimal jobs, in an effort to help them identify available training programs and those “best fit” positions that many industries have combined into their train-and-employ initiatives; and,
  • Being aware that some nonprofits, universities, labor unions, and industries have created no-cost job training and placement programs for veterans to put them into jobs in critically undermanned industries and sectors.

Here is a sampling of some industry-specific training opportunities that can help our veterans up-scale their employment search to capture “best fit” positions and avoid underemployment:

  • Manufacturing: The Manpower Group recruits veterans to fill positions, trains them at its Academy of Advanced Manufacturing (AAM), and places them in a job. Classes are filled year-round, and this 12-week program is a no-cost, paid, hands-on training opportunity.
  • Construction: The Smart Heroes program provides sheet metal industry training, at no cost, to active-duty service members as well as veterans.
  • Sales and Retail: The Salesforce Trailhead Military training program is unique in that it is entirely self-directed, which means veterans can start the training whenever they want and progress through it at their own pace. Many finish in as little as four months, even as full-time military personnel.
  • Utilities: Utility workers are always in-demand according to the Utility Workers Union of America, working in power, water, gas, health, and safety jobs all across the country. In 2012, the union launched its free, seven-month training program titled the Utility Worker Military Assistance Program, or UMAP. After the 7-month training period, the union will place the service member into a union job wherever there might be an opening. Best of all, the UMAP is a DOD SkillBridge-eligible program, which means the service member can enter the program and finish it during their last six months of service, ready to work the day they separate.
  • Unions: The shortage of skilled labor hit the union of plumbers, fitters, welders, and service technicians just as much as it hit other labor unions. The United Association (the union that represents these fields), began its Veterans in Piping (VIP) program to offer free training for transitioning service members to fill these skilled trades.
  • Customer Service, Information Technology, and Business Management: Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) is one of the best resources for veterans looking for a post-military career, and one of the reasons for that is its Onward to Opportunity program (O2O). The IVMF offers a considerable list of learning opportunities on its O2O website.

[1] Underemployment Remains an Issue for America’s Veterans

[2] Challenges on the Home Front: Underemployment Hits Veterans Hard