Over the course of a year, Grantham said he applied to at least 1,000 jobs while working in an oil field in Utah and looking for a job in Georgia, where he wanted to join his girlfriend and newborn son. He said he was often told that he was not qualified.
“When it comes down to it, all my skills are certified in the military, but when you get out into the world they don’t mean anything,” said Grantham, who joined the Marine Corps fresh out of high school and worked as a mechanic during his four years of service.
“In two-and-a-half years, I led anywhere from four to 12 and at other times a platoon of 120 people — making sure that their professional development was taken care of, they’re getting their training and showing up for work on time. But, when you go back into the civilian world you’re literally starting at the bottom of the totem pole.”
Grantham’s experience is not that unusual for many recent veterans who return home from active duty and face difficulty finding employment.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for recent veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001 was 12.1 percent in 2011. The jobless rate for all veterans was 8.3 percent.
For young male veterans between ages 18 and 24, the unemployment rate was 29.1 percent in 2011.
Overall, the national unemployment rate in 2011 was 8.7 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Retired Navy Capt. Ted Daywalt, CEO and president of Marietta-based VetJobs, an online job board for veterans, said the unemployment rate for veterans is compounded by a reluctance to specifically hire members of the National Guard, which has responded to numerous crises abroad and at home, including wars, Hurricane Katrina and the current Waldo Canyon wildfire in Colorado.
“They have been called up so many times that there are people that just don’t want to hire them,” Daywalt said.
“We are working with a lot of employers who like hiring members of the National Guard and putting them into jobs where if they get called up, they can come back to it.”
Founded in 1993, Engineering Design Technologies is a veteran-owned engineering and construction firm in Marietta where veterans make up 20 percent of the workforce. The company’s portfolio includes Kennesaw State University’s 6,000-seat Convocation Center.
“They bring a commitment and dedication to the workplace that cannot be touched by regular people, but also cannot be understood by regular people,” Pam Younker, vice president of corporate services, said of veterans.
“We take a look at any qualified people, but we look at veterans first because we know there won’t be a question about dedication and loyalty to our company.”
The employment outlook for veterans has shown signs of improvement, thanks in part to a gradually improving economy and employers taking advantage of government incentives, such as the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors tax credits, which offer up to $2,400 and $4,800 in credit, respectively, to employers who hire them.
In May, while the unemployment rate for recent veterans was 12.7 percent, the rate for all veterans dropped to 7.8 percent, which is better than the national rate of 8.2 percent, according to U.S. Labor Department data.
Mobilized Fuels is owned by Kim Gresh, president of S.A. White Oil Company. Half of her combined workforce of 50 employees is composed of veterans. She credits her vice president, Travis Ellis, who is passionate about the military, for leading the effort to put veterans such as Grantham to work.
“Businesses here in metro Atlanta and the state need to do a better job providing employment opportunities for these veterans because they’re making the ultimate sacrifice and for them to come back to nothing is wrong,” said Ellis, who chairs the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Honorary Commanders Association.
“Here in Georgia, the unemployment rate is between 8 and 9 percent. The most recent statistic I read said in the National Guard alone the unemployment rate is 30 to 40 percent.”
Bill Downer, Georgia Department of Labor manager of coordination support services, said the department has two programs focused on marketing veterans to employers and offering employment assistance to veterans, including those grappling from disabilities, substance abuse problems and homelessness.
A 9-year Army veteran, Downer said veterans are trained to work hard and possess many skills and qualities employers are looking for, but have difficulty translating such within the civilian job market.
“Often times, military members are not taught to sell themselves to the private sector because they don’t realize that the vast amount of skills that they have are extremely marketable,” he said.
“A deployment expert is no different than a project manager…it’s about helping them translate those components that they did in the military over to the private sector.”
Downer advises veterans to register for possible medical, disability and retraining benefits with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at 800-827-1000. And also to receive priority of employment services at state Labor Department career centers by identifying themselves as veterans. The Cobb-Cherokee Career Center is at 465 Big Shanty Road in Kennesaw. For information, call (770) 528-6100.
— Rachel Cooper contributed to this report.