Veterans face unique challenges trying to land first civilian job

Published: Jan. 12, 2018 at 9:20 PM CST
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As Gov. Eric Greitens calls for a bill that would legally protect companies giving military veterans preferential treatment in the hiring process, some in Springfield say that the transition from service to civilian can be daunting.

“I'd say that it's pretty unique,” Department of Workforce Development supervisor Kelly Fender says. “They have those transferable skills, but they're not always able to communicate those.”

Fender works in the Springfield Job Center building, and says that their workshop to teach veterans job search skills has gained popularity recently.

“We have a workshop that we offer every week that does go into that and helps them put into terms that civilians would understand what they've done and how it translates to the civilian work world,” she said.

Springfield assistant city clerk Tom Smith knows what it’s like to struggle with this. He retired from the army in 2012, and spent 2.5 frustrating years trying to find his second career.

“It sometimes is difficult to come to grips with, 'ok, I'm unemployed and I have to convince everybody else that I have something to offer,'” he said.

He says he struggled with translating his skills that he gained in decades of service into practical talents that could help him in an office. Rejection letters piled up, but once he knew how to market himself, he found a perfect fit.

“This was just an absolute blessing because I have a masters in public administration, and this job was public administration,” Smith said. “This was a square peg in a square hole.”

Smith is a success story for the Department of Workforce Development, but still sees veterans struggling with the same traps that got him. He says there’s a language barrier of sorts between veterans and civilian employers, and that some employers may even be wary of taking on a service veteran because of those.

Fender, however, says the businesses that she works with are usually happy to take vets.

“They want to hire veterans,” Fender said. “These are people that have a proven work recird, they're obviously used to a schedule, they have great work ethic and employers in this area are very supportive of hiring veterans.”

The DWD is holding a virtual job fair for veterans looking to re-join the workforce on their website, which you can visit by