President Obama today unveiled a new initiative intended to help veterans get back to work by allowing some U.S. service members to receive civilian credentials and licenses for skills they learn in the military.
“Just think about the skills these veterans have acquired at an incredibly young age,” the president told workers outside of Minneapolis. “They’ve done incredible work, and that’s exactly the kind of leadership and responsibility that every business in America should be wanting to attract, should be competing to attract. That’s the kind of talent we need to compete for the jobs and the industries of the future. These are the kinds of Americans that every company should want to hire.”
The effort is aimed at boosting employment among post-9/11 veterans, some of whom have had difficulty obtaining jobs in high-skill industries because their training is not immediately transferrable to the private sector. (e.g. a military truck driver is not automatically certified to operate a rig in his or her home state, just as a military EMT requires extra certification to obtain a civilian EMT job.)
The current unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans is 9 percent, based on a three month weighted average, officials said. Veteran unemployment is 8.4 percent overall.
Obama announced that a Defense Department task force he created has penned a deal with several major U.S. credentialing agencies for engineering, logistics, machining, maintenance and welding skills to provide the “opportunity” for 126,000 service members to get “industry-recognized, nationally-portable certifications” starting this summer.
Obtaining certification in the military is no guarantee of getting a job post-service, however. White House officials did not estimate the impact the new effort might have on veteran employment overall.
The cost of the initiative, which does not require Congressional approval, is “pretty minimal and will be paid for with existing resources,” an administration official said. The administration plans to expand credentialing opportunities for other sectors, such as health care and information technology, by this time next year.
The president made his pitch at a Golden Valley, Minn., Honeywell facility which employs 65 veterans with manufacturing skills first obtained in military training/service.
“Honeywell is doing this not just because it feels good. They’re doing it because it’s good for business, because veterans make outstanding workers. So today, I’m taking executive action that will make it easier for a lot of companies to do the same thing,” Obama said.
“The same technical skills used at Honeywell are the same skills that military services produce in our veterans by the thousands,” an administration official said. “But today, there is no credentialing process for that experience when veterans leave the service. We know that there are companies having difficulties finding the right people to fill for which they’re imminently qualified.”
Honeywell has hired 900 veterans since 2011, the company said.
Obama used the event to call on Congress to enact the fifth item on his “to do list” – a five-year, $1 billion “Veterans Job Corps” spending bill that would fund the hiring of veterans as first responders, conservationists, construction workers, etc. across the states.
“I believe that no one who fights for this country should ever have to fight for a job when they come home. And for Congress, that means creating a Veterans Job Corps so we can put our returning heroes back to work as cops and firefighters, on projects that protect our public lands and resources. And they should do it right now. They should do it right now. But if we’re going to serve our veterans as well as they’ve served us, we’ve got to do even more,” Obama said.
The spending bill has little chance of passage in an election-year, though White House officials are optimistic. “When President proposed this in State of the Union address, he received one of few standing ovations that night,” an administration official said. “And as we have seen with other vets proposals (tax credits, our GI bill which has legislative versions sponsored by republicans), putting vets back to work has bipartisan interest.”
The veterans-themed event on Memorial Day week comes as the president and his re-election campaign make a concerted push for the vets vote. A new Gallup poll found Obama lagging Mitt Romney among veterans 58 to 34 percent.
This post has been updated to include the president’s remarks.