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Witness Testimony of Chris R. Straw, Co-Founder, Team Quality Services, Auburn, IN

Team Quality Services
Auburn, IN.
October 13, 2011

Marlin Stutzman
Chairman
Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity

Dear Congressman Stutzman:

Regarding veteran employment issues in Northeast Indiana, I have a very unique perspective. Being born and raised in Northeast Indiana I am very aware of the perceptions and beliefs and the regional culture. I am also a veteran, so I have personal experience in being on that side of the employment line as a veteran. Lastly, now as a business owner and employer I frequently deal with employment issues from that side of the table.

I feel that employment issues for veterans in Northeast Indiana fall into three basic categories; little interaction or presence of military units in the region, low or unrelated skills/lack of higher education and finally, uncertainty of availability of the service member.

Little interaction or presence of military units in the region. Compare Northeast Indiana with a state like Texas. Texas has many military bases across the state. These are typically prominent employers and major players in the community. People may know someone who works at the base. They certainly know about the base, have maybe been on the base at an open house or possibly their jobs provide services that support the base, etc. By just the proximity of the base to the communities, the people are more educated and familiar with the military and the military personnel on the base. I would also argue that in many cases the perception of the military is higher among those people than people who don’t have that interaction or proximity.

Without that interaction, people in Northeast Indiana are left to make their own judgments based on the information they have either available or presented to them. Unfortunately, these perceptions, in many cases are through what they see in the news, what has been portrayed by Hollywood or their own past experiences. Reports have indicated that returning Veterans are encountering negative employer perceptions that Veterans are rigid, deficient in education and technological skills, and unstable due to PTSD. In an Associated Press (Yen, 2008) article describing this study, a Veterans group spokesperson observed that a “Wacko Vet Myth” is growing among employers — an unintended negative consequence of years of attention being directed at the mental health issues of returning Veterans. Perception is reality until shown otherwise.

Low skills/lack of higher education. Many returning Veterans, particular of college age, have very limited work experience outside the military. Many of those just out of high school have been delayed going to college because of deployments and many service members who are members of the National Guard/Reserves have had to leave college mid-year or mid semester because they have been called to active duty. This has put many young members of the armed forces at a distinct disadvantage to their civilian peers. Then, when they get out of the military, their highly focused skill doesn’t match the qualifications required by employers in our region.

Uncertainty of availability of the service member. Employers are very aware of the increase in deployment activity of our service members. Guard and Reserve personnel are routinely deployed overseas to support the war on terror. The length of this current campaign has required even multiple deployments for some personnel. Add to that the knowledge that there doesn’t seem to be an end anywhere on the horizon and employers are reluctant to invest the time and money into on-boarding a new employee who may or may not be at work because of a Guard / Reserve commitment. This is especially the case with high unemployment numbers, the abundance of qualified candidates in the marketplace and sluggish economy forcing employers to work as lean as possible. What’s an employer to do while the service member is deployed? Is he supposed to hire a replacement, then lay them off and pay unemployment to them because you have to keep the service members spot open for them? What would you do?

Now, look at the cumulative picture of all of these points from the viewpoint of a Northeast Indiana employer with the perceptions and beliefs typical of this region. Unfortunately, the odds aren’t in the favor of the vet. So how do you overcome these issues? Education, involvement, publicity and predictability are the things that I feel will help reverse the perceptions and trends in Northeast Indiana.

Sincerely,

Chris R. Straw