A great way to honor our vets? Help them get jobs!

Today is Veterans Day, one day a year set aside to honor our military veterans, past and present. With more than 40,000 U.S. troops returning from Iraq by year's end, the day takes on even more significance. We're no doubt grateful to our military men and women and all they sacrifice to preserve our nation's freedom.

And how do we express that gratitude? After the parades, the standing ovations and even the free meals at certain restaurants (including Applebee's, Chili's, Outback Steakhouse and Subway), what can we do to thank our veterans for their courageous service?

If you're an employer, the answer may be to provide as many job opportunities to our veterans as you do our civilians. I know this is tricky because the economy is lousy and many businesses have frozen their hiring, but this isn't the case across the board.

In fact, a new CareerBuilder survey found that one in five (20 percent) employers are actively recruiting U.S. veterans over the next 12 months, while 14 percent are recruiting members of the National Guard.

Keep in mind this is different from employers who are legally obligated to reemploy soldiers returning from military leave. As we've discussed in this blog, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is a federal law that provides certain rights to members of the uniformed services, such as reinstating employees upon completion of service.

When it comes to new hiring this year and into 2012, the areas where employers from the CareerBuilder survey plan to focus their attention are: 

    Information Technology -- 36 percent
    Customer Service -- 28 percent
    Engineering -- 25 percent
    Sales -- 22 percent

“The survey shows that employers recognize the unique value military experience can bring ..." said Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America.

Not to say that veterans won't face the same challenges securing a job as everyone else. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among vets who served in the Middle East since 9/11 was 12.1 percent this October, compared to 9 percent for the overall workforce.

“I don’t think it’s overt discrimination," says Chad Storlie, author of “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader: 20 Lessons to Advance Your Civilian Career, "but HR departments and hiring managers are being very picky today. He adds: "They want the best person that makes them feel comfortable; that’s why vets have to show everything in their background and how that will help them be successful.”

In addition to figuring out how to translate their military experiences into compelling skills for today's job market, veterans might consider where they live. A study commissioned by financial firm USAA and identified the “Best Places for Military Retirement: Second Careers.” The best town for vets went to Oklahoma City, Okla. After that, it was:

    Norfolk, Va.
    Richmond, Va.
    Austin, Texas
    San Antonio, Texas
    Madison, Wis.
    Philadelphia, Pa.
    Raleigh, N.C.
    Omaha, Neb.
    Manchester, N.H.

Short of packing their bags and moving to a a new town, however, HR experts recommend that vets focus on who they are and what they want to do, aggressively network (especially with ex-military personnel) and when possible, start reaching out to potential employers before they leave the military.

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