Fort Benning

Deputy Secretary of Labor kicks off summit on jobs at Fort Benning

In an Army that’s downsizing amid budget cuts in the armed forces, Deputy Secretary of Labor Christopher P. Lu was at Fort Benning on Wednesday to kick off the Soldier for Life Transition Summit.

Lu, who was approved for the position almost a year ago, focused on help that’s available for service members, veterans and military spouses along with workshops to help job seekers hone their skills to get employed.

The summit at the Fort Benning Club ends Saturday. It features recruiter training and discussions on improving employment for service members, veterans and their spouses.

A key problem facing many veterans is translating a military position into a civilian job. Lu said a radio operator in the Army has a skill that’s important in the telecommunications industry, but employers don’t know how to make the connection. The Labor Department has translated more than 900 military occupations into civilian operations.

“That’s one of the reasons we are trying to figure out how to translate military jobs into civilian jobs,” he said. “We have had great success so far.”

Soldiers who served as battlefield medics also may spend a year getting credentials or a license to do the same job as a civilian.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We need to find a way to use those skills and give them full credit for the skills they have developed in the armed forces. That’s one of the reasons we are here today.”

During a roundtable discussion early Wednesday with military spouses, Lu said he was troubled by concerns faced with finding, retaining and changing jobs.

“We owe it to our service members and veterans to figure how we can break down these barriers to employment,” he said. “It’s really the right time to be having that conversation here in America.”To help train job seekers, the Labor Department used a billion dollars in grants to improve job training and help workers gain the needed skills for employment. Lu said employers want to hire veterans, and he has heard that while traveling across the country.

At the Labor Department, Lu said one-third of the agency’s new hires are veterans. The same commitment is required at all federal agencies in government, he said.

Eric Eversole of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said one of the challenges to hiring service members is making sure that hiring managers are aware of how military skills translate to a civilian job. A manager needs to be able to see the value of a soldier.

“We see some challenges,” Eversole said. “One of the challenges I have seen over the last 18 months is you have to sell your business and the next opportunity. It’s the next great generation.”

Managers want to see the same level of commitment for their company as soldiers had for their jobs in the military.