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November 10, 2014

Luis Salvatierra finished a successful career in the Navy as a technician working with explosives. He needed to find civilian employment in San Diego and was interested in the information technology field. Embarking on a new career is challenging, especially in a competitive field like IT and for a veteran. How was he going to succeed? 

When our military men and women leave service, we want to believe that their transition into civilian life will be seamless. For too many, however, it is not. The veteran unemployment rate provides a stark reminder that more needs to be done to support veterans in their transition to civilian employment. 

The San Diego metro region’s unemployment rate is improving, reaching pre-recession levels. But despite positive labor market trends overall, veterans in our region continue to experience high rates of unemployment. This is especially true for younger “post-9/11” veterans. According to June 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau and compiled by the Employment Development Department, veterans between the ages 25-34 face a 14.7 percent unemployment rate. 

Why is this? Veterans face numerous challenges when seeking civilian employment:

  • Many veterans do not start thinking about civilian employment and career planning until after separation.  
  • Translating experience in service to the civilian context can be difficult. 
  • Navigating the civilian labor market often requires learning job search skills that were not required in service, such as interviewing, networking, résumé writing and completing online applications. 
  • Accessing multiple federally funded veteran programs can be complex and overwhelming for veterans.
  • Many veterans experience mental or physical disabilities as a result of their time in service, increasing the need for support services that address these challenges and affiliated employment concerns. 
  • Many veterans do not receive industry-recognized credentials or certifications for their field experience (e.g., field medic, truck driving, mechanic) throughout service so they enter the competitive civilian market at a disadvantage. 

What are we doing to help? 

The San Diego Workforce Partnership and our funded partners are addressing these challenges in a number of ways. 

Veterans receive priority of service in the America’s Job Center of California (AJCC) network, where they can access individualized career assessments and local labor market information to identify the most promising career pathways, develop personal employment plans, attend job readiness workshops, access job training scholarships, and be directly connected to employment opportunities. 

We work closely with our veterans to find ways to transfer their invaluable leadership experiences to civilian jobs. We also host frequent job fairs and employer panels related to growing industries that need the skills veterans bring to the table. 

A monthly Veteran Boot Camp Program is held at the South Metro Career Center (located on Imperial Avenue), one of the 12 AJCCs located throughout the County. The program is a series of workshops organized by the Veterans Department of the California Employment Development Department, which helps transitioning veterans prepare themselves for the civilian workforce. Limited to 15 participants, each boot camp helps veterans complete challenges that include job search strategies, résumé preparation and interviewing skills. The camps run five days and conclude with an employer panel. 

We also have deep partnerships with other veteran-serving organizations and programs in the community that provide a full complement of services whether it be housing, supportive services or work-readiness training. 

We are seeing progress at lowering the veteran unemployment rate. Our community is prioritizing the alignment of each individual veteran’s skills and career aspirations with our regional employers’ needs. Veterans are being hired in a number of San Diego’s priority sectors, including manufacturing, technology and biotech. 

Companies like Qualcomm are utilizing internal programs to introduce veterans to jobs in the technology industry. Qualcomm’s QCIP-Warriors program partners with local organizations twice a year to recruit veterans for an eight-week integration program, pairing 12 to 16 veterans with veteran mentors and coaches across the company. Each veteran receives technical skills training and professional development, and participates in employment and hiring workshops. To date, an incredible 85 percent of class graduates have gained employment at Qualcomm or other local employers. 

What happened to Luis? He visited the South Metro Career Center one month after his separation from the Navy. He worked with a veteran representative and a case agent to explore his options in the IT field. With their guidance and support, he went through an A+ Security+ Network+ program, and less than one month after completion obtained employment as a Junior IT Specialist for Epsilon Inc.  

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez recently said, “Veterans have the skills that employers are looking for. They make our nation’s workforce more productive, our companies more profitable and our economy more competitive.”

We can, and must, do more. There are thousands of talented veterans like Luis who are ready to add value to employers in our region right now. This Veterans Day, let’s not only thank our military for their service, let’s ensure their future by securing them a place in our labor force. 


Peter Callstrom is the President and CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership.

County Supervisor Ron Roberts serves as Policy Board chair for the San Diego Workforce Partnership.


This commentary was published in The Daily Transcript/San Diego Source on Nov. 10, 2014.

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