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Study: Veterans, employers far apart on how they understand each other

Jake Lowary | Tennessean

Employers and veterans are far apart on how they understand each other, but in many ways veterans are a lot like their civilian counterparts, a new study shows.

The study, released Friday by the marketing firm Edelman, shows that employers and veterans differ greatly on what they see in each other, and adds to a growing divide that has complicated the transition for troops leaving the service searching for jobs.

The survey of nearly 3,200 veterans, non-veterans, educators and employers shows that more than three-quarters of employers want to hire veterans, but less than 40 percent feel that veterans have skills that transfer from military to civilian jobs.

"One the largest disconnects exists with employers' views of veterans’ soft skills," a report on the study says, pointing to just 19 percent of employers who say veterans have good communication skills while 64 percent of veterans feel they communicate well.

That data points to what many see as a language or cultural barrier between veterans leaving the military and civilian employers who widely say they want to hire veterans but don't see their military training yielding transferable skills.

"Employers just saying they want more veterans and veterans saying they want more jobs isn't enough," said Elisa Vitalo, vice president for Edelman Intelligence.

Within its data, Edelman found that more than half of employers said they didn't get enough veteran applicants, and those that did said they lacked relevant skills or experience.

The study is the latest in a series of studies that have begun to highlight the challenges that veterans face when leaving the military and begin looking for work.

Earlier this summer, the city of Clarksville, state of Tennessee and Fort Campbell partnered to study similar issues in the town that immediately borders the nation's fifth-largest military installation.

That study found that many soldiers preparing to leave the Army felt they were almost shoo-in candidates for positions, but employers were hesitant to hire them. 

In 2016, Edelman conducted a similar study that had similar results, particularly in the area of mental health. Last year it found that 92 percent of employers felt mental health programs were necessary to support veterans, and just 16 percent of employers felt veterans had adequate access to those services.

The 2016 survey also found that employers want to hire veterans but didn't feel they had sufficient education, a common job requirement.

In the 2017 study, fewer than half of employers and non-veterans believe most veterans pursue a college or vocational degree while in the military.

"I think right now we can reasonably say there are these misperceptions that exist," Vitalo said.

Vitalo said the data generally suggests that veterans are much like their non-veteran counterparts, especially on reasons why they leave jobs, despite misconceptions that the two populations are vastly different.

"Non-veterans feel like there is this perception of 'the other' with veterans when that's not the case," she said.

Vitalo said Edelman will continue to conduct similar studies annually.