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Career Soldiers Face Challenges in Civilian Job Hunt

The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are churning out a wave of new veterans leaving the service and looking for work. Often however, it's not the young vets who face the biggest challenges transitioning into the job force. On paper, there doesn't seem to be much of a problem: Last year the unemployment rate for veterans was about half-a-percent less than the national figure. But the numbers don't tell the whole story. according to state employment specialist Hurtis McDowell: "If that mature veteran has a family, he's gonna take a position. Period," says Hurtis McDowell, a North Carolina Veterans Employment Specialist. "So consequently he's off the unemployment role. But he's underemployed." Underemployed is a polite way saying he has a dead-end job. And McDowell says it's older veterans who struggle with this most. Many of the new wave of young soldiers who enlisted after 9-11 and are now leaving the service take GI benefits and head straight to college. It's different for veterans in their 30s and 40s with decades of military service. "They've enlisted out of high school, they've made this a career," says McDowell. "And then they try to relate it. They try to transfer from military sector to civilian sector and I find a lot of them are having trouble with that." "It's kinda tough. It's kinda tough," admits Rodney Mozell. Mozell seems like a great job candidate. His resume features 20 years of service in the Marine Corps and several deployments. His most recent assignment was mentoring and teaching young marines. When he left the service in 2004, he was over thirty, but opted to spend two and a half years getting a bachelor's degree. He's gregarious and confident in his dark suit at this career fair held at Lowe's Motor Speedway. But for seven months he says he's had trouble convincing employers he's got what it takes for a job in Human Resources: "It's a little bit challenging that you see when you see what their requirements are," says Mozell. "They may say 'Well we want you to have a master's degree.' Well you know, I may not have a Master's, I have a Bachelor's. But I also spent 20 years dealing with people. So it's a little bit different." Hurtis McDowell says he sees veterans in Mozell's situation all the time. They have vast experience an employer would be crazy to ignore. And yet something gets lost in translation. "I'll give you a perfect example," says McDowell. "I've talked with seven or eight people in the last 20 minutes. When I ask what type of job are you looking for? I'm looking for a job in logistics. Well that means very little to the civilian sector. That could mean they are a truck driver. They could be a warehouse manager." So what should they be asking for, if they want a job in logistics? "They should be asking specifically for the job that they want," says McDowell. "They're not going into that company as a logistics manager or a logistics supervisor. That company's looking for a warehouse worker or a forklift operator. And they have to learn to communicate those two different things." McDowell says some jobs are a natural fit for veterans. Trucking companies love retired soldiers used to driving big military vehicles. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Department has asked McDowell to refer every veteran he sees. The US Border Patrol is at this career fair too, for obvious reasons. But what about veterans interested in a corporate career, like Mozell? Some big corporations seem to be coming are coming around. Bank of America, for example. "The bank has a big priority for hiring veterans," says John Fenlon, an executive recruiter for Bank of America. "We find veterans are skilled, talented workers, used to a matrix organization." The Bank of America booth is by far the busiest place at the career fair, with seven recruiters like Fenlon working the crowd in their matching red shirts. He says the Charlotte-based bank launched a veterans hiring initiative about eighteen months ago when it realized it was missing out on great talent: "The dilemma we have is a lot of people at the bank can't read a military resume," says Fenlon. "How do you translate what a sergeant does or a platoon leader does, or someone in avionics does, to the bank?" You get people like Fenlon to translate, that's how. In just over an hour he's collected a stack of resumes, all carefully annotated on his red clipboard. Every veteran who visits the booth is also encouraged to apply with the bank through a special website. During our brief conversation, the line of job seekers to speak with Fenlon has begun piling up into the aisle. It's Shawn Burch's turn. He introduces himself and Fenlon asks for his resume. Burch was a cook in the army and has worked as a plumber in the years since he left the service. That's where Fenlon zeroes in, telling Burch that BofA has its own construction company and suggesting he look there for work. Two minutes later, Burch's resume has been flagged for a possible job and he's smiling. He hopes his days of underemployment may soon be over. For WFAE News, Julie Rose.