Teresa Wahlert, Director, Iowa Workforce Development, Des Moines, IA
Strengthening Veteran Employment Opportunities in Iowa
Throughout the country countless men and women have dedicated their lives and made extreme sacrifices for the safety of everyone. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have deployed to serve our great country, yet when they come home a fundamental step in returning to a civilian life is difficult to obtain: employment. Iowa is one of the few states without an active military installation; however our National Guard and Reservists have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other world locations in record numbers, often for multiple deployments.
Iowa receives a small grant for the veterans program within our 16 one‐stop integrated centers. As such, we have developed creative alternatives to ensure our entire workforce staff members are trained in providing priority of service activities for Iowa’s veterans. This allows our targeted veteran staff members to focus on active case management for veterans in need. This level of case management has developed new meaning with the record number of returning service members over the last few years. Recently, Iowa welcomed home nearly 3,000 service members from Afghanistan follow a long deployment. While this should be a time for celebration for our returning heroes, the Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard, Major General Tim Orr, recently noted that nearly 25 percent of these individuals would be seeking full‐time employment. Unfortunately, our service men and women have faced hiring difficulties and problems with USERRA compliance upon their recent return. Although federal regulations require veterans be returned to their former positions, frequently this is not the case. Further promotion of USERRA requirements is needed to ensure our veterans are treated appropriately.
Iowa is working to develop a new service delivery model that benefits all job seekers, including veterans. The integration service delivery model works to identify the needs and barriers of job seekers early on to ensure the client receives all of the benefits of programs within the workforce system. This allows staff members to quickly identify veterans to ensure their immediate connection to a veteran specialist. A significant barrier for individuals transitioning to civilian employment is translating the military skill set to civilian skills. It’s difficult for the veteran who is so entrenched in military language to develop the talking points to sell his/her skill sets as valuable within the civilian workforce. Iowa’s veteran specialists work diligently on a daily basis to assist with this process and to educate employers on the benefits of hiring veterans.
Although Iowa is a smaller state, time and time again we’ve been recognized for our outstanding efforts in providing services to veterans. Our staff developed a veteran’s services guide that details programs and services for veterans in a format that is easy to navigate and understand. Additionally, the department instituted a peer‐to‐peer case review system on a quarterly basis to provide ongoing training and develop best practices for all program specialists to use throughout the state. Both of these initiatives have been replicated by states throughout the country.
On July 27th, Iowa Workforce Development announced a first in the nation partnership with the Iowa National Guard. The state's workforce access point technology is being introduced onsite at the 43 National Guard Armories across the state. This is the same virtual service deployed across Iowa in hundreds of new sites. Veterans will have immediate access to job search technology, résumé development software, labor market information, veteran specific resources, unemployment information and access to one‐stop workforce specialists via live chat or a toll‐free number from 8:00AM to 8:00PM Monday through Friday and 10:00AM to 2:00PM on Saturdays all from an environment where the veterans currently seek a variety of services and contacts.
Although Iowa is a small state with a limited grant, we’ve taken innovative approaches to maximize the funding for the entire state. Iowa focuses its staffing dollars towards the DVOP case management side and trains everyone on our business outreach teams to educate employers and promote the hiring of veterans. Our entire workforce team works to educate employers on the benefits of hiring veterans. This provides our state with a larger portion of resources to direct at intensive case management activities. This process has been recognized by other states such as Oregon, Nevada, Connecticut and others as a best practice for ensuring veterans receive dedicated services. Every year, states are allowed to use one percent of their veteran services grant as incentive awards to the regional one‐stop centers. Iowa Workforce Development uses this opportunity to reward our specialists who go above and beyond in service delivery and develop creative means for reaching veterans in the community. The inventive awards are used in a variety of ways including providing bedding for local veteran homeless shelters, purchasing gas cards to ensure the veteran has the means to attend an interview, sponsoring honor flights and more. In 2010, a DVOP specialist received the distinguished national Mark Sanders Award for outstanding service to disabled veterans in Iowa.
While Iowa and other states have taken creative steps to assist veterans, more needs to be done to ensure that veterans find successful, sustaining employment opportunities that meet their unique needs and allow each individual to utilize the skills developed during their selfless service to the country.