Job help for returning troops picking up steam

Published: Sunday, Jan. 8 2012 10:27 p.m. MST

Neil Uemura served in Iraq with the Army and now works for Zions Bank as a bank card fraud investigator.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Neil Uemura spent a year and a half in Iraq with the Army and then spent the year after returning home looking for work.

He latched onto a new internship program for veterans and returning troops that Zions Bank launched in August and recently transitioned to a full-time job with the bank investigating ATM fraud.

Nine of the 11 inaugural interns now have full-time jobs, one is currently deployed with the military and one has a job pending as the bank gets ready for its second round of interns who report today.

Uemura said the speed with which the bank put the internship program together meant there weren't that many applications during the first round, though he's heard the word has since gotten out. "I think about 500 applied for the next group," he said.

Brian Garrett, military relations director for Zions, said the program not only gives participants an on-the-job training opportunity but incorporates classes to help service members know how to translate their military experience into a civilian workplace.

"We recognize their needs are a lot different than the general employment candidate. They have different backgrounds, bring different skills," he said.

The internship is one of a number of initiatives in Utah designed to help troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find civilian jobs. A Nov. 4 job fair in Salt Lake County attracted almost 100 employers and about 1,000 service members or spouses of service members who were looking for work.

"I think at least 50 got jobs that day," said Terry Schow, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs. "Most employers want to help out."

Veterans are reported to have an unemployment rate that is as much as double the population generally, though that oft-used margin may not be reliable because of the way unemployment information is both collected and reported.

"It's an elusive number," said Department of Workforce Services spokesman Curt Stewart. "It's hard to determine the number of veterans coming into our employment centers just because we don't ask that status right up front, and some people don't identify themselves as such."

Utah has been a leader among the states in efforts to find jobs for veterans, said Al Yardley, outreach specialist with the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs. "But the 18-24 age group has the highest unemployment rate," which overlaps with a large number of recently deployed troops.

"We've been doing a lot better in the state, but there is still a lot to do," he said. "These kids are still struggling."

"Employment and mental health are very closely tied. If a guy can't find a job, sometimes they'll turn to drugs or alcohol," Schow said. "If you can get a fellow in the job market, get him trained, then he ends up feeling good about himself."

Yardley said he remembers a woman at the November job fair who said, through tears, she had to hurry home and get ready for work that same night.

Utah has a Military and Veterans Coalition that helps coordinate efforts like the job fairs. The state, Department of Veterans Affairs and Workforce Services are key players, as is the National Guard.

Hundreds of members of the Guard's 222nd Field Artillery Battalion, which recently returned from Iraq, will be the focus of the next big job fair on Jan. 28.

Many in the 222nd are from southern Utah, so a Jan. 17 employment workshop and the job fair on Jan. 28 are being scheduled at the Guard's armory in St. George. Interested veterans can get more information and register online. Interested servicemen and women can also get more information by contacting Kim Watts, robert.k.watts@us.army.mil, or Mark Harrison, mark.b.harrison@us.army.mil.

The state also keeps updated employment information at veterans.utah.gov. "If they'll contact us, we'll plug them in with the appropriate events. They should constantly check back with our website," Schow said.

The coalition is also working with the Utah Legislature and higher education to help streamline the process of converting military training for civilian jobs. "Licensing requirements for Army medics so they can become paramedics, for example. Some of them don't have direct compatibility," Schow said.

e-mail: sfidel@desnews.com

Twitter: SteveFidel

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