* Vet jobless rate 2.6 pct higher than general population
* As wars wind down, lawmakers and groups focus on issue
By Roy Strom
NAPERVILLE, Ill, Oct 29 (Reuters) - When Matthew Burrell left the U.S. Army after eight years of service, he landed a job as a public relations contractor in Iraq. With a salary of $170,000, he figured military experience had finally paid off.
But five months after returning home to Chicago, 33-year-old Burrell is unemployed and his search for a job in the private sector has left him disheartened.
Despite having six years of experience as a public relations officer in the Army, he said he is treated as though he had just graduated from college.
“I can tell you for a fact that definitely in my field in public relations and marketing, private-sector companies do not value (military experience),” Burrell said.
Burrell, along with many of what the Department of Labor says are 235,000 unemployed veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has run into a vexing problem.
Many U.S. companies, and sometimes veterans themselves, do not know how to translate military experience into civilian skills. There is a disconnect between companies demanding a college degree and veterans giving confusing descriptions of their military experience to civilian employers.
That disconnect has contributed to veterans having an unemployment rate 2.6 percent higher than the general population, according to September’s Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment report.
As U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down, lawmakers and organizations are starting to address the issue.
The Obama administration this week announced steps that include encouraging community health centers to hire 8,000 veterans over the next three years, and improving training opportunities for military medics to become physician assistants.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it hopes to get 15,000 veterans hired through 100 job fairs around the country for veterans this year. One of those job fairs was held recently in Naperville, a Chicago suburb, giving 86 companies the chance to meet more than 600 veterans.
One problem is that veterans need to explain more clearly to companies the value of their experience, said Kevin Schmiegel, vice president of veterans’ employment programs at the Chamber of Commerce.
Hiring managers who have not served in the military are often bewildered by the jargon used by soldiers and weapons specialists, said Becky Brillon, who heads a program at the Community Career Center in Naperville.
A military job title might be listed like this: “25 Romeo visual and media equipment operator and maintainer.”
“If somebody was artillery, or a sharpshooter or a sniper, you have to tone that down in the civilian world. It’s more about being detail-oriented, precise and focused,” she said.
On the flip side, private employers should give more credit to the experience and skills veterans acquire in the military, Schmiegel said.
Some military jobs, like a mechanic or technician, are fairly easily adapted to the private sector. But military credentials and certificates for other forms of training do not seem to carry much weight.
Rick Combs, a 27-year-old who retired as a sergeant in the Army, says he was given management training in the military. So far that training has not translated into a comparable private-sector job.
“You can come in, and slap something down that says, ‘Here, the military says I can lead people. Give me a department and I will make it dance for you,’” Combs said. “I haven’t had the opportunity on the civilian side yet.”