|Battling for a job: Unemployment above state average for veterans|
|Written by Rick West|
|Tuesday, 08 November 2011 15:31|
Veterans employment representative Charles Jones, right, helps veteran Bryan Breneman at the Rock County Job Center in Janesville. Breneman, an Air Force veteran, became unemployed in 2008, and utilizing educational and training opportunities through Blackhawk Technical College and the job center, earned an associate’s degree in business management in 2010. Rick West/staff photo.
(Read the full story in the e-edition HERE.)
DARIEN — When Bryan Breneman completed his tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force in 1992, jobs were plentiful for veterans. Breneman, 42, married with two sons, ages 4 and 10, began working in 1996 at Lear Corp. in Janesville, but after 12 years with the automobile-supply company, he was laid off in 2008.
Like many, he went back to school, but even with a degree and training, the only employment Breneman has found is work as a machine operator at Birds Eye Foods in Darien. While he feels fortunate to be working, he continues to seek a new job.
Breneman took advantage of education benefits offered to dislocated workers from Lear to enroll at Blackhawk Technical College, earning an associate degree in business management in 2010.
“I thought if I had a degree, I’d do better. Now I have a degree, and it’s not making it,” Breneman said.
Breneman also enrolled in a variety of workshops at the job center, including computer skills, resume writing and mock interviews.
“Any education is beneficial,” Breneman said. “You feel a lot more comfortable and confident.”
“I want to find a position that deals with my degree,” Breneman said. “This is not an industrialized nation anymore — it’s more of a service nation.”
Breneman said he was more fortunate than other laid-off workers, because his wife is a registered nurse, however, Breneman said the job market he’s facing now is much different than 20 years ago.
“Frustrated is a mild word,” Breneman said of his experience in seeking employment. “You fill out a job application that 600 other people are applying for.”
The September unemployment rate in Walworth County was 7.1 percent, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. In Rock County, it was 9 percent and among cities, Beloit had the highest rate in the state at 12.4 percent.
But the rate among veterans like Breneman, and others just returning from service in Iraq or Afghanistan, is higher.
Walworth County Veterans Service Officer Chris Jordan believes the number of veterans looking for work will continue to increase as another 10,000 troops are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
“But remember that many of those deployed have (served in the) Guard and Reserve — who hopefully had employment when they were called to active duty — and employers are required to allow them to return to their job,” Jordan said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently put the jobless rate for Wisconsin veterans at more than 13 percent, and as high as 28 percent for veterans up to age 24.
An increased number of veterans are getting job-seeking help at Wisconsin Job Center offices, too.
“It’s been a steady increase over the years,” Gary Meyer said about the number of veterans to whom job centers have provided help. Meyer is the Region 2 supervisor in the Office of Veterans Services for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
Through September, more than 7,900 Wisconsin veterans took advantage of job-seeking help at job centers, Meyer said. That compares to 8,387 total in 2009 and 10,273 in 2010.
“We’ve projected that we might see an increase of up to close to 12,000 (for 2011),” Meyer said.
Rock County Veterans Service Officer John Solis said Breneman and other unemployed veterans are encountering the same challenges as anyone else seeking employment in the current economy.
“(There are) too many applicants for limited job openings,” Solis said. “(But) veterans do have the advantage of having some excellent education benefits available to them.”
Education and training benefits available for veterans include the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Wisconsin GI Bill. Established Aug. 1, 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing to veterans with at least 90 days of military service on or after Sept. 11, 2001, or individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days. The Wisconsin G.I. Bill provides a full waiver of tuition and fees for eligible veterans and their dependents for up to eight full-time semesters or 128 credits at any University of Wisconsin System or Wisconsin Technical College System school.
Veterans who served as long ago as the Vietnam era are taking advantage of benefits.
Annaliese Knapp of Delavan completed her service in the U.S. Navy nearly 40 years ago. Yet, at age 60 and unemployed for the past 18 months, she’s returning to school next semester.
“To me, learning has nothing to do with age, it’s just sometimes in your life you have to go back to school to get a job,” Knapp said. “I’m really barely surviving.”
Knapp plans to enroll in the emergency medical technician program at Gateway Technical College in Burlington.
“I’m very skilled, but I’m going back to school to get certified — maybe that’s the problem,” she said.
Making the most of benefits
“VA (Veterans Administration) benefits do change and veterans of all eras should see their (county veterans service officer) to see what benefits they may be eligible for,” Rock County’s Solis suggested.
Those who are looking for work should seek out the disabled veterans outreach program specialist or local veterans employment representative at the local job center, Solis added.
Most Americans agree veterans shouldn’t have to fight for a job when they’ve returned home from the fight overseas. But, too often, returning veterans struggle to find a job worthy of their talents.
“I thought it would carry a little more weight than it did,” Breneman said of his service in the Air Force. “I figured with the background in the military … that would escalate my experience.”
Still, Solis and others have confidence that employers want to hire veterans.
“I believe veterans are disciplined and possess a ‘can-do attitude,’ which would be a benefit to any company,” Solis said, adding military service puts a positive spin on a resume.
“You bet it does — it’s a bonus,” agreed Jen Becker, who along with her husband, Brian Becker, own Elkhorn Automotive and Tire Center in Elkhorn. “With their military training, I know they’re (former military members) going to be on time and be reliable.”
The Beckers have 10 employees and Jen Becker, a U.S. Army veteran from 1994 to 1998, said the company has employed four veterans over the past two years.
“People returning from the military also have an accelerated learning curve … and they enter the work force with identifiable and transferable skills, that have been proven in real-world situations,” Meyer said.
So for now, Breneman travels from Janesville to Darien each day to work the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. second shift at Birds Eye Foods, still dreaming of a better future for his family.
“You can dwell on the negative, but you get nowhere, fast,” Breneman said. “I just do what I can do, and keep smiling.”