by Edward F. Clemons, SPHR
Senior Vice President, Chief Human Resources & Ethics Officer
The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company
AMVETS Life Member
Since 9/11 we have been a country at war in places far from home. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a time in the future when this will not be so. A whole generation of young Americans like you have gone off to war on behalf of America, and the question remains as to what this country will do when you come home.
The average modern veteran of military service is likely to be better educated than veterans of other eras. He or she is also likely to have worked with technologies and advanced systems under extremely stressful conditions. This average veteran also knows the value of teamwork and leadership.
Unfortunately, this veteran also has a good chance of being unemployed.
According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 10.9% in April, 2011. That’s a full 2% higher than the overall unemployment rate throughout the United States.
One might argue that these returning veterans are coming back to a country just out of recession and still not creating enough jobs – particularly not enough jobs for young men. Our veterans should not have to return from fighting a war on foreign soil, only to come home and fight another war for a job.
Male non-veterans in the 18-24 age group have an unemployment rate of around 17%. For male veterans in the same age group, the number is 27%.
Have employers lost the sense of obligation to veterans that they had in other eras?
There is no evidence that we have lost our emotional interest in them. We put the bumper stickers on our cars and we welcome them home in parades and town halls all across the country.
In fact, there are structural changes in the economy that make it more difficult for the modern returning veteran. A report to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee said “Prior to the start of the recession, post 9/11 veterans were more likely than non-veterans to be employed in mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation and utilities, information, and professional and business services – all industries that experienced significant drops in employment during 2008-2009.”
It should be that we look at returning veterans not as a set of unwanted skill sets but as character assets. In the insurance industry, character counts as much as hard work, intelligence and contacts. Our business is based on duty, loyalty and nobility of purpose. These are hardly foreign concepts to the returning veteran.
What employers need to do is match those character assets to training programs in their industry that will educate and enable a new generation of professionals.
At Penn Mutual we just made a $2.5 million commitment to The American College to build the nation’s first Center for Veterans Affairs. The American College specializes in training and education for the insurance industry, and returning veterans could very well be part of the new generation that is urgently needed to replace a rapidly graying group of practitioners.
The Center for Veterans Affairs will work with a special panel of active duty and retired military leaders and insurance industry recruiters to create a ‘Mission Roadmap’ for soldiers who are interested in becoming life insurance professionals and financial advisers. It is anticipated that the first soldiers graduating from The College with these designations will be within the next two years.
While we are justifiably proud of our participation in this program, it’s important to remind colleagues that we don’t have any exclusive rights to support for this kind of training. Any company can, and should, participate.
When a veteran comes off a tour of active duty military service, the last thing he or she wants is the opportunity to rest on some well-deserved laurels. What veterans want is challenge, opportunity, a way to provide a future for their families, and the chance to once again serve others honorably as a civilian.
Matching those character assets to an industry always looking for new talent is the right thing to do.