Understanding USERRA


By Debbie Gregory.

The federal laws outlining the rights of Reserve and National Guard soldiers and the duties of their civilian employers are complicated. Those rules are outlined in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) and are an important guide for employees and employers to understand. Furthermore, every business, whether it employs one military member or 1,000, is legally bound to follow these federal mandates.

Nearly half of the nation’s military members are part of the Guard and Reserve forces, meaning at some point many civilian employers will lose their employees to military duties. The USERRA laws help make that transition smoother by outlining expectations employers must meet during a military member’s employment, re-employment and retention while serving in uniform.

It is important for employers to note that the law’s definition of military service is broad, and covers all military training, including duty performed on a voluntary or involuntary basis, and in time of war or peace. It also covers military members who enter active duty as part of a response to a national disaster.

Major points of the USERRA that employers should know:

–          Employers cannot refuse to hire an individual because of pending military training.

–          After military leave, the employer must re-employ the individual to the position they would have held had they not deployed with the military.

–          Employers must also determine what pay or promotions the employee would have received while they were gone on military leave, and increase their pay to that amount, as well as provide them with the seniority and status they would have attained.

–           USERRA applies to all employees, including executive, managerial and professional employees.

–          The employee is not required to get permission from their employer before performing military, service but must give notice of the upcoming service.

–          If the employee’s most recent period of service in the military was more than 30 days, he or she must not be discharged, except for cause, for: (1) 80 days after re-employment if the employees service was more than 30 days but less than 180 days; or for (2) one year after reemployment if the employee’s most recent period of uniformed service was more than 180 days. This law essentially amends the “at will” doctrine under these circumstances.

–          If the military service exceeds 30 days, the employer can request documentation in connection with the employee’s re-employment.

–          Unlike FMLA, there is no special working time pre-requisites for an employee to vest into eligibility for USERRA. The law’s rights kick in on the first day of employment.

The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) is available for both employees and employers, to explain the laws and act as a mediator between military members and their civilian employers. For assistance, contact them at www.ESGR.MIL or at 1-800-336-4590.

Bridging the gap


By Debbie Gregory.

Another company is bridging the gap between military and civilian job descriptions to boost veteran jobs.

Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO of Xcel Energy, outlined ways the utility plans to bolster its military hiring practices to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.

“I’m pleased to be able to speak to the committee about our long standing commitment to veterans, and our plans to increase those efforts,” Fowke said. “We value the skills, commitment and diversity that veterans bring to the workplace.”

Fowke told the committee that the energy industry faces a significant need for new, qualified employees, as over half of their workforce is eligible to retire over the next 10 years.  It only makes sense for them to identify, attract and hire from the pool of qualified, skilled military and veteran candidates.

Fowke appreciates the qualities exhibited by military-experienced employees, including the ability to learn quickly, support a team environment, respect procedures, prioritize safety, multi-task and provide leadership to those around them.

Currently, about 12 percent of Xcel Energy’s 11,000 employees are veterans, with many represented in management. The company forecasts a need for linemen, engineers, operations and maintenance personnel.

Within the utility industry, Xcel Energy has worked to open channels to identify and recruit qualified veterans, and plans to expand those efforts. Xcel Energy also offers orientation, training and leadership development programs to transition veterans into the workforce and retain them.

Fowke outlined several things that can be done to help veteran job seekers transition into private sector jobs, including translating military skills into job requirements, strengthening résumés, and improving interviewing skills. Fowke said helping veterans achieve certifications and credentials relevant to the industry would also improve their chances of obtaining private sector jobs.

Some veteran jobs require civilian certifications and/or licenses related to their military occupational specialties. Certification plays a key role in obtaining veteran job transition such as mechanics, installers to medical technicians to therapists to computer network engineers, Web site developers, and many, many others.

Xcel Energy complies with all requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, as well as all state laws. In addition, the company supports its employees who are called to active duty with enhanced benefits.

Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL) is a major U.S. electricity and natural gas company with regulated operations in eight Western and Midwestern states. Xcel Energy provides a comprehensive portfolio of energy-related products and services to 3.4 million electricity customers and 1.9 million natural gas customers through its regulated operating companies. Company headquarters are located in Minneapolis.

Companies helping veterans translate their military skills into the workplace

companies helping

By Debbie Gregory.

Thousands of veterans will be returning home, and the transition will be a challenge.

Employment is of great concern to veterans.  American businesses are making more room for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, helping to drive down the overall unemployment rate for veterans.

Wal-Mart’s President and CEO, William S. Simon, announced the largest hiring commitments for veterans in history on January 15, 2013.  Wal-Mart plans to hire more than 100,000 honorably discharged veterans on or after the January 15 date.  Wal-Mart already employs 100,000 veterans to date. Wal-Mart has participated in other programs such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program.

Wal-Mart joins a renewed effort by corporations to hire veterans. Wal-Mart provides career training and job opportunities for our troops, for successful professional lives both during and after their service in the military. Wal-Mart holds our veterans in high esteem, and is honored to have the opportunity to employ them.

Sam Walton, Wal-Mart’s founder and a former Army intelligence officer, built a solid respect for the military into the foundation of their company – a respect that has only increased through the years. And now, Wal-Mart’s unique size and scale affords the company another opportunity to give back to our nation’s heroes.

The Wal-Mart Foundation has funded a grant to Veterans Green Jobs (VGJ). VGJ will connect 1,000 veterans with training and employment initiatives, and place many of them into full-time, green sector jobs. The grant will support Veterans Green Force, which reaches out nationally to recruit veterans and place them in green jobs; Veteran Green Corps, which trains veterans for conservation jobs on public lands (such as trail building and firefighting); and Go Green Warehouse, which sells reclaimed building products that would otherwise go into landfills.

On April 30, 2013, the New York-based private equity group Blackstone Group announced it would hire 50,000 military veterans over the next five years, across its various businesses. Blackstone has stakes in Hilton Worldwide, Equity Office Properties, Republic Services and AlliedBarton, among other companies. Other firms, including Target Corp.and Home Depot have also set goals of hiring more military veterans.

A number of companies have utilized military recruiting teams, composed mostly of veterans, who can better understand applicants who are veterans. The White House said U.S. businesses have hired or trained 290,000 veterans or military spouses, and have committed to hiring 435,000 more by 2018.

Wal-Mart and the Blackstone Group are certainly doing their part to actively recruit veterans. Wal-Mart values the qualities that veterans bring to the table: pride, leadership and purpose.

Google Recruiters Assist Veteran Job Seekers


By Debbie Gregory.

One of the most important things for veterans to remember as they apply for jobs: civilian recruiters don’t speak military. You may have the right skills, the perfect training and tons of experience. None of that matters if the company you are applying to doesn’t understand how your military job translates to the civilian sector.

Twenty veterans teamed up with Internet giant Google in a recent career development workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to learn how to market military experience to a civilian employer.

“You really want to help connect the dots for recruiters like me who do not know about the military,” said Swati Dostli, a recruiter for Google. His other tips for veterans: get rid of the military jargon, show how your experiences while serving match the skills companies are looking for, and use numbers to help quantify the translation for civilians.

Dostli told the participants that as they strip their resumes of military camouflage, some questions the veterans should ask themselves are: “What is my skill set, and how does it translate to some of the core competencies, such as innovation, communication, problem solving skills, and decision making?”

As part of the company’s annual week of community service, the recent workshop was one of 15 that the Google Veterans Network has hosted in 12 cities across the nation.

The Google employees, several of whom were former military themselves, helped the veterans polish their resumes. They also gave one-on-one coaching, interview tips and job search advice.

So what is the number one tip for veteran job seekers, from a former Navy SEAL now working at Google?

“Use numbers,” said Harry Wingo, who was a SEAL for 6 ½ years and now manages veterans programs out of Google’s D.C. office. “(Say) ‘I improved things this percent’ or ‘these are how many personnel I worked with,’ ‘this is the dollar value of some of the equipment that I used.’ That translates. Numbers are the language of business.”

Hiring reservists, veterans for border duties


By Debbie Gregory.

The Senate has devised a plan to recruit veterans, reservists and National Guard members to guard the nation’s borders.

The amendment to the immigration reform bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to work with the Department of Defense to recruit veterans and citizen soldiers to fill jobs in customs, border protection and immigration posts. The bill calls for $30 million to be spent adding up to 20,000 more agents on the Mexican border. The additional employees would bring the number of boots on the ground to about 40,000.

Officials are willing to sweeten the deal for reservists and veterans who sign on by offering student loan repayments, up to $80,000 for a three-year commitment, and signing bonuses. Additional money to cover relocation costs and retention bonuses could be offered as well.

The Senate is currently in its second week of debating the bill. Senators Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Mike Johanns, R-Neb., are cosponsors of the amendment to hire military members. Senator Pryor said America’s trained veterans are the best fit for the job.  “We need the best and the brightest to stand guard at our border, and I can think of no individuals better trained for this role than our military members and veterans. They’ve shown time and time again that they’re dedicated to serving our nation.”

Senator Johanns added that the military teaches a lot of skills, many of which could be used securing our borders. “This is a win-win amendment that encourages our current and former military service members to pursue jobs in border security, adding to the ranks of highly trained professionals dedicated to protecting our nation’s border.”

The bill also provides a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. Arizona politicians, however, are more concerned with the sealing of the border on which their state sits.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told reporters. “I’m glad they’ve finally decided to talk about the border surge that we’ve called out for since 2010, asking them to take control of our border, operational control. And I think this is a great step forward in regards to that.”

Veterans generate new job prospects


By Debbie Gregory.

At 6.2 percent, the unemployment rate among veterans reached a four-year low in April– thanks to veterans who stopped standing in line for job interviews and went to work for themselves instead.

Veteran-owned franchising is a growing option that is capturing the attending of thousands of former military members each year. In 2010, the number of veteran-owned franchises reached 6,081. That number jumped to 11,469 in 2011, according to officials at the International Franchise Association (IFA), a Washington-based trade organization.

While Washington has done its share to encourage businesses to hire veterans, including offering tax breaks to companies that do, the IFA has launched its own campaign to increase veteran entrepreneurship. The group joined forces with the White House, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Small Business Administration to create the Operation Enduring Opportunity campaign.  The campaign is working towards employing 80,000 former military members and military spouses in franchising by 2014. A recent survey showed that 64,880 had found such jobs since November, 2011 when the campaign began.

Officials say veterans and military families are a good match for the world of franchising because they have the discipline and dedication.

“Veterans do well in the franchising arena,” said Rhett Jeppson, Associate Administrator of SBA’s office of veterans’ business development, and a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. “It’s a way to provide opportunities for them, especially if jobs aren’t available.”

Former U.S. Army Ranger Robert Rummells tried jobs such as installing equipment and simulated firearms training, but learned quickly that he was most comfortable working for himself. He opened a Mosquito Joe pest-control franchise in Virginia and is excelling at life in a franchise. “I’m an outdoor type of guy, and I didn’t want to be chained to my computer in an office, talking on the phone,” said Rummells.

The Small Business Administration reports that veterans own about 2.4 million businesses, or 9 percent of all U.S. businesses, employing 5.8 million workers. Still, entering the franchise world can be difficult. Veterans can use programs supported by the SBA, but banks are cautious of small borrowers.

Kevin Safley, who served with the National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, and again between 2009 and 2010, opened a Cottman Transmission auto care franchise in Washington last year, after obtaining a small business loan as a service-disabled veteran.

“It’s been rough. I’m still learning,” Safley said. “But we’re making money, and there are lots of customers. If I don’t give up, things will work out.”

New initiative from the Small Business Administration benefits veterans


By Debbie Gregory.

The Small Business Administration (SBA)  is stepping up to provide veterans financing for both new veteran-owned small businesses and the expansion of existing businesses. The SBA Veteran Pledge Initiative program will provide loans totaling $475 million over the life of the program. More than 120 banks across the United States will be helping to deliver on the SBA Veteran Pledge Initiative.

At a ceremony to announce the national SBA Veterans Pledge Initiative, Small Business Administration Director Karen Mills challenged banks to increase SBA-backed loans to small business owners who are veterans.

KeyBank, a regional bank headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, is pledging to increase SBA Loans to veteran-owned small businesses. KeyBank,  the 19th largest bank in the United States,  is pledging to increase SBA-backed loans to small business owners who are veterans.

If you are a veteran or service-disabled veteran in need of veteran financing, the SBA has resources to help you start and/or grow your small business. From creating a business plan to finding your first customer, they’re here to help you succeed.

The SBA “Operation Boots to Business” program is partnered with the Veterans Pledge Initiative. Operation Boots to Business trains veterans in business entrepreneurship.  In 2012, KeyBank made 52 loans totaling $21 million to veterans financing small business loans.

The SBA stands behind veterans in search of small business loans. Instead of offering its own business loan guaranty program, the Department of Veterans Affairs currently cites the SBA loan program as a helpful resource for veterans seeking to expand or start a new small business. The Department of Veterans Affairs is dedicated to assisting veteran entrepreneurs, and guarantees SBA Business loans.

If you are looking to start or expand an existing business and need veteran financing, the new SBA Veteran Pledge Initiative improves your chances of obtaining a veteran finance loan. SBA partner banks will increase their lending to veterans by five percent each year, for the next five years. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and TD Bank are among those who have taken the pledge.

Young war veterans struggle to find jobs

By Debbie Gregory.

Nearly 1 million service members are expected to leave the military and enter the workplace over the next five years. But translating that military experience into civilian lingo is proving to be tough, and may be part of the cause of a drop in veteran employment.

“The vast majority of people in this country didn’t serve,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Civilians just don’t get what vets did in the military. It can seem like vets were beamed down from Mars.”

On the battlefield, a veteran may have commanded dozens of soldiers, made split-second, life or death decisions and shown textbook leadership qualities. However, that doesn’t fit neatly onto a civilian resume. And even if it did, more veterans making the transition from military life to the civilian workforce wouldn’t know how to phrase it.

“That person might have led 12 men in Afghanistan,” said Kevin Schmiegel, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes. “He built schools, negotiated with tribal warlords, oversaw millions of dollars in equipment. The world should be his oyster. But we can’t look at that title and think that the only job he’s well-suited for is as a security guard. And if we do have that mentality, what does that say about our country?”

The job market is already a tough place for nonveterans to find work. Veteran jobs are even tougher to find as veterans struggle to sell themselves to employers and overcome the stigma of PTSD. Officials say younger veterans are having the hardest time finding work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics report for 2012 states that the unemployment rate for veterans ages 25 to 34 is 10.6 percent, and a whopping 20.4 percent for the 18-to-24 age group. Those numbers were much higher than the civilian figures of 8.2 percent for those 25 to 34, and 15 percent for the 18-to-24 group..

Hiring Our Heroes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce program, has staged 490 job fairs since March 2011, resulting in more than 18,400 veterans and military spouses finding work. Schmiegel, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, said that while their goal is to introduce employers to the talent pool, veterans must close the deal.

“This isn’t charity,” he said. “We can help show veterans where the jobs are and how to broaden themselves. But once they have the tools, then it’s up to them.”

TAP GPS Program in Place

By Debbie Gregory.

With the implementation of the Defense Department’s revamped Transition Assistance Program (TAP), military members leaving the service should receive better guidance as they navigate the transition.

The search for veteran jobs and veteran friendly schools is made easier with the services now offered through TAP. Aspiring veteran business owners can also seek the help of the office as they move from the uniform to launching their own businesses.

Dr. Susan S. Kelly, principal director of the DOD’s Transition to Veterans Program Office, testified before the HASC Subcommittee on Military Personnel both on the status of the requirements of the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act and the recommendations of the Presidential Veteran Employment Initiative Task Force for the redesigned TAP. Both have placed veteran jobs, veteran schools and help with Post 9/11 GI Bill issues at the top of their agendas.

“[The DOD] and its partners have fundamentally redesigned TAP, making the needs of today’s service members and their families a top priority,” Kelly said, adding that the redesigned program encompasses the requirements of the VOW Act, in addition to recommendations from the Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force.

The new TAP, now in its second phase of use, is known as the DOD Transition Assistance Program: Goals, Plans and Success, or TAP GPS. TAP GPS is the cornerstone of the DOD’s transition efforts and a collaborative partnership among the Defense, Veterans Affairs, Labor and Education departments, the Small Business Administration and the Office of Personnel management.

Kelly told the group that the overall goal is to prepare service members who are heading into the civilian sector, as they search for education and employment opportunities that are veteran friendly. She went on to say that the core of the redesigned TAP establishes the new career readiness standards, extends the transition preparation through the entire span of service members’ careers, and provides counseling to develop their individual transition plan.

TAP will be part of the Military Life Cycle Transition model that will be in place by the end of fiscal year 2014. That program aims to “empower service members to make informed career decisions and take responsibility for advancing their personal goals”, Kelly said.

First Lady Announced Certification Plan for High Tech Veteran Jobs

By Debbie Gregory.

A new program announced by First Lady Michelle Obama will allow thousands of soldiers to leave the military with more than battlefield experience. They will have the chance to earn certifications in high-paying technology careers – before they enter the civilian sector.

Mrs. Obama unveiled the new Information Technology Training and Certification Partnership to put thousands of service members to work in high tech jobs for veterans. The new partnership will provide up to 161,000 service members the chance to earn certifications and complete credentialing programs before ever stepping out of uniform.

The program is expected to garner more than 1.8 million veteran jobs by 2020, with average salaries of more than $81,000, according to a White House fact sheet

Mrs. Obama said that too often, men and women in uniform come home to find that the training and experience they’ve received in the military doesn’t count toward civilian employment, “or they discover that the credits they’ve earned in military courses don’t transfer when they enroll in college, so they’re turned away from jobs that they’re more than qualified to do.”

The program is just one of several initiatives set forth by Mrs. Obama and her husband to boost the number of veteran jobs available across the nation.

President Barack Obama has partnered with the manufacturing sector to facilitate service members receiving high-demand advanced manufacturing certifications as they transition into veteran technical jobs . It also ties in with the recently developed DOD Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, and the first lady’s February challenge to the country’s governors; take executive or legislative action for service members to get the credentials they need to transition to the civilian labor market by the end of 2015.

“We’re here today … not just for our veterans and our military families, but for our economy and for the future of our country,” Mrs. Obama told members of four roundtables who will work to streamline the credentialing program.

Members of the roundtables represented the Defense Department and the military services, the private sector, industry trade associations, unions, educational institutions, state legislatures, veterans’ service organizations and state licensing boards.

Mrs. Obama emphasized that changing laws is just the beginning, noting that “even the best laws in the world won’t make a difference until companies are actually making those job offers, schools are accepting those credits, and our veterans and military spouses are actually collecting those paychecks that they need to take care of their families.”