The Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a pilot program in Colorado Springs aimed at getting more veterans hired into civilian jobs.
The Veterans Economic Communities Initiative will join VA, local veteran’s charities and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance in a bid to connect troops with employers. A key part of the program is helping veterans translate their military skills to fit civilian workplace needs.
“It’s good for us as a community,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Terrance McWilliams, who heads military programs for the El Pomar Foundation and is helping spearhead the effort.
The program, which will be introduced to two dozen cities nationwide, aims to end the disparity in employment for the youngest veterans. Post 9/11 veterans are more than 20 percent more likely to be unemployed than civilians of the same age groups. Male veterans aged 24-34 have an unemployment rate topping 7.5 percent while non-veterans of that age have a jobless rate of 6.3 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Rachel Chaparro, who is running the Colorado Springs program for VA said the agency hopes a combination of outreach programs such as job fairs, employer involvement and educational programs can narrow the gap.
“We want to create a pipeline of employment opportunities for our veterans,” Chaparro said at a gathering of business leaders in Colorado Springs last week.
Chaparro will share office space with the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and will lobby employers to post their openings to VA’s job seeker site http://www.ebenefits.va.gov/jobs.
The site is designed to help veterans and employers match up needs with hard-earned military skills, Chaparro said.
The Regional Business Alliance got on board in a bid to keep more troops in Colorado Springs after their service at local bases has ended. Andy Merritt, who heads the alliance’s military programs, estimated that as many as 600 troops leave the service at local bases every month. About half of them stay in the Pikes Peak region after taking off the uniform, Merritt said.
“I’d love to capture more of those folks who choose to go elsewhere,” Merritt said.
Bob McLaughlin, who heads the Mount Carmel Center of Excellence, a charity-based veterans center under construction in Colorado Springs, said working with the VA to get veterans jobs will burnish the region’s credentials.
“We have a great reputation for being veteran-friendly,” he said.
Chaparro said VA is committed to the program for the long-haul.
“This is a trail-blazing initiative,” she said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240
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