Monday, August 31, 2009

Mythical Skills Gap

Welcome guest blogger, management consultant, colleague and Deputy Representative to the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Services Advisory Committee at the Daughters of the American Revolution, Joy Montgomery. The Mythical Skills Gap Around the world, discussions have been taking place about the Skills Gap for years. From information technology to manufacturing to fire fighting, employers and agencies discuss their inability to find skilled workers. From another point of view, recruiters discuss how difficult it is to find skills like team spirit, a solid work ethic and leadership. While discussions about this problem continue, another problem grows as if it’s not related – as if it’s not a solution to the problem. While efforts are being made to bridge the skills gap in many ways, the most immediate solution is largely ignored. Our returning Veterans are the people employers are looking for. In many cases, our returning Veterans cannot even get an interview for the kinds of jobs they are qualified to do.

Employers want highly trained professional and technical people. They want employees who can work under stress, employees who focus on the goal, employees with a solid work ethic, employees with team spirit, and employees with leadership skills.

Veterans have earned careers that will engage their very solid, stress-tested work ethic. They know how to focus on a goal. They can apply their skills to contribute to an employer’s success. They are, above all else, goal-oriented team players. They are leaders.

World War II Veterans came home and deservedly became the much hailed “Greatest Generation.” We all know about the skills and qualities they brought to our country and to our workforce. Today’s returning Veterans are met with cheers but the cheers are followed by silence when they look for their place in the economy. One of the reasons for the silence is that neither employers nor returning Veterans know how to translate military experience into real civilian language. Attempts have been made by the military programs but they don’t quite make it. Here, in fact is the gap to bridge. The “Skills Gap” needs to be addressed in the schools for the future but it needs to be addressed with Veterans today.

One Marine, tasked with keeping systems operating in their quarters when he wasn’t in combat, came home to find that part time work for minimum pay in a gun range was the best he could do. He was understandably angry that his voluntary service seemed to have eliminated the chance for a normal life, that “couch-surfing” was his future. With a decent translation of his non-combat accomplishments, he is employed full time in a facilities management position.

A career Marine who made the effort to achieve two college degrees toward a civilian career when she retired from the Marine Corps, is doing clerical work. The translation of non-combat accomplishments for her has opened her eyes to high level opportunities where she will be able to influence policies that will help all returning Veterans. She’s on her way to the career she has earned.

A disabled Army Reserve Veteran continued the truck-driving job he had before deployment in spite of extreme pain. He had a family to support and saw no options. In his case, the current economy caused a reduction in force and he was let go. The new “GI Bill” provided funds for training in a new career and a translation of non-combat accomplishments and certifications put him ahead of fellow graduates.

Another Veteran, a telecommunications expert who set up installations under combat conditions, is stocking shelves for a grocery store. People whose job is to help others find jobs are able to feel good about their work if they can find a job for a person. It isn’t always possible for them to find a job that a Veteran deserves because it isn’t always possible for them to understand what the Veteran has to offer. Effective translation of terms is getting him interviews in his field.

While discussions continue about how to resolve the Skills Gap and plans are made to provide the work force we need for the future, the work force we need to get us to the future is already here and being squandered. Instead of taking their proper place in the economy, many Veterans are underemployed. A growing number are homeless, divorced, and losing hope.

The solution? Translation!

Small groups have tried to take this on and found it daunting. What’s needed is for the Veterans Administration or a national professional association to take on the project, translating the military terms into truly understandable civilian terms for the employers who are suffering from a belief that there is a skills gap and for the employees who have paid a high price for the skills they have to offer.

Joy Montgomery

---- In her professional life, Ms. Montgomery is a management consultant, building business systems so people can build their businesses. Ms. Montgomery is developing ReBoot Camp for the Livermore footprint of the Palo Alto Health Care System, an effort to provide returning Veterans with the transition tools they need to reconnect to their families, their communities, and their careers as a changed person.

(c)Copyright 2009, Joy Montgomery. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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