Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Richard (Dick) A. Rue, State Chair, Iowa Employer Support of Guard and Reserve
Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and members of the subcommittee:
It is a privilege to be here today representing the Iowa ESGR team in this important discussion to maximize employment opportunities for members of the Guard and Reserves. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this topic and provide the Iowa ESGR perspective and initiatives to address this important issue.
Iowa ESGR and our Partners
The primary mission of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves (ESGR) is to promote a culture in which all American employers support and value the military service of their employees. We accomplish this through advocating relevant initiatives, recognizing outstanding support, increasing awareness of the law (USERRA) with our employer and military outreach programs and resolving conflicts through mediation when requested. Under our advocate role, in FY 11 ESGR educated, provided consultation to, and assisted with reemployment challenges for employers, National Guard members, and Reservists. The Employment Initiative Program (EIP) was added to our mission in the fall of 2010 and is designed to facilitate employment opportunities for unemployed and underemployed service members and their spouses. This program is an outgrowth of our ESGR Employer and Military Outreach Programs and complementary to the current economic realities in our state and aligned with our President’s New Veterans Employment Initiative.
I will focus my comments of the Iowa ESGR support directed primarily towards the Iowa Army National Guard’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s recent deployment and return to Iowa in three parts: Pre-mobilization, mobilization, and post mobilization.
Pre-mobilizaton: Prior to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2BCT) leaving the state the National Guard provided work space for our staff to set up computer stations during all pre-mobilization briefing events. ESGR was given the opportunity to partner with the Department of Labor VETS providing a USERRA and ESGR briefing to all service members to ensure that they were aware of their rights and responsibilities with regard to employment and re-employment. Additionally, the computer work stations provided every soldier the opportunity to update their Civilian Employment Information (CEI) with ESGR staff there to assist with the sometimes difficult navigation of the website; this ensured that we, Iowa ESGR, had the most current possible information with regard to our employer communication focus. The National Guard made this station a requirement to ensure that this DoD requirement was accurately completed prior to their deployment. We believe the approach to this data collection process greatly contributed to improved accuracy of the pre-mobilization information regarding employment status.
In an effort to be proactive, ESGR requested the CEI data information “by unit” to better determine the number of soldiers that were not employed and also identify those that were students. As the 2 BCT prepared for deployment, the Iowa economy continued in an economic downturn and there was a National emphasis on the unemployment status of our troops. The CEI report from December 2010 showed that 630 soldiers considered themselves “not employed” and 267 as “students”. With these numbers in mind, Iowa ESGR and the Iowa National Guard began to jointly discuss and develop an appropriate plan to assist these members upon their return. Proactive planning was our plan for success.
Mobilization: Iowa ESGR has hosted regular employer outreach events statewide for several years; however during mobilization, with the current emphasis on employment needs of our Reserve Component members, these events were revised to emphasize re-employment rights and employment opportunities. Iowa ESGR partnered with DOL-VETS on the planning and facilitation of several events with the primary focus around educating employers on USERRA and to provide awareness of resources like ESGR and DOL-VETS, which are available to employers and not just for the benefit of service members. Additionally, ESGR provided an overview of the unemployment outlook for our returning National Guardsmen and encouraged employers to actively hire these qualified individuals upon their return. Once engaged, employers began sending their job opportunities to ESGR and several employers provided volunteer HR representatives for the Employment Assistance Training (EAT) events that Iowa ESGR subsequently conducted in coordination with DOL-VETS and Iowa Workforce Development.
Post-mobilization: In July 2011 the Iowa ESGR staff, as requested by the Iowa National Guard, traveled to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin as the 2 BCT transitioned from their overseas deployment back to the United States. The purpose of ESGR’s presence was to provide a refresher briefing to all troops on USERRA as well as to facilitate the collection of survey data regarding employment status. Of particular interest was the unemployment and student status change’s that occurred during the deployment. ESGR and the Iowa National Guard partnered together in developing a survey to capture up-to-date information on the 2 BCT return. ESGR collected, tabulated and presented the survey results to the Iowa Guard Command.
During the 90-day post mobilization events, the Iowa National Guard again provided work space to us and required all troops to visit the ESGR station where they updated the Civilian Employment Information (CEI) data previously collected. It was clear upon review of the collection results that our Brigade returnees had success finding jobs within their communities. Statistics have not been gathered from other elements of the Iowa National Guard or other service branches in the state, leaving a large portion of the Guard and Reserves population with an unknown employment status at this time.
The Employment Assistance Training (EAT) was created through a partnership with the Iowa ESGR, DOL-VETS, and Iowa Workforce Development as a one day training event. These workshops were designed to teach job search skills to job seekers. Topics included the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), resume’ writing, job interview skills training, and online job search techniques. Additionally, civilian human resource representatives volunteered to provide constructive critiques on resumés and provided practice interviews for participants with immediate feedback of their interview skills. The Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) and the Employers Council of Iowa supported the training events by providing many of the HR volunteers. The Iowa National Guard and Reserves also supported this effort by ensuring that their members were aware of the program and encouraged their participation. Since September 2011, ESGR and Iowa Workforce Development have offered seven Employment Assistance Training events in communities identified as having the highest number of unemployed Guard members. These locations were selected based on the survey results acquired in July during soldier out-processing at Ft. McCoy, WI. Unfortunately only three of the seven events took place, as the remaining 4 were canceled due to low RSVP numbers. Individuals interested in attending the cancelled sessions were given the option to schedule individual sessions with the local Veterans Representatives at Iowa Workforce Development. One possible cause of the low participation may be scheduling the employment events too soon after their return home. After deployment, these soldiers were not in a duty status and may have simply wanted a break from the military or had made a decision to enroll in college or other skilled trade courses. They may have also have just felt that they were not ready to think about finding employment while decompressing after a long deployment.
Iowa ESGR is currently working with Iowa National Guard and Reserve units to promote job training events and job fair opportunities throughout the state. ESGR volunteers continue to brief Guard and Reserve members and their families regarding job search opportunities, training events and USERRA during Yellow Ribbon post-mobilization events (reintegration briefings and activities) and during regular unit annual briefings as part of our Military Outreach program. Information regarding upcoming employment events is regularly emailed to all of the 400 unemployed individuals currently identified. We also ensure that the employment event information is disseminated throughout the command and staff of all Iowa National Guard and Reserve units, to all Guard and Reserve members returning from deployments, and to all of our ESGR military outreach volunteers who regularly visit all units throughout the state.
When contacted by Guardsmen or Reservists regarding employment opportunities, ESGR staff regularly refers individuals to the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces website, Yellow Ribbon’s Hero 2 Hired website, and local employment coaches who offer free services to members of the Reserve Components and Veterans. Additionally, Iowa ESGR developed and maintains a strong relationship with the Iowa Workforce Development and the Job Connections Education Program (JCEP) staff and regularly refers job seekers to their resources.
ESGR, within the state of Iowa and throughout the Nation, has a long and successful history of helping National Guard and Reserve Service members and their employers to better understand their rights and responsibilities under the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Our Iowa National Guard and Reserve commands have demonstrated tremendous support for successful conduct of our mission and I wish to publically thank them, as it takes a team to win and they have certainly been team players with Iowa ESGR and all supporting agencies within our state. Now, with the Employment Initiative Program and associated partnerships, we are well prepared to continue our history of assisting service members and employers to connect more effectively than ever before.