From Wal-Mart to Cisco to AT&T, a plethora of companies are making pledges to hire veterans.
But physically tracking down those potential employees — particularly young Marines — is a surprising problem that one pilot program is trying to solve.
“When I retired and I had 90 days leave … my plan for the first 45 days was to watch football and drink beer. You aren’t thinking about that transition,” said Mike Sabellico, president of Encinitas-based Vanguard Global Solutions, recalling his mentality when leaving the Coast Guard in 2007.
He's gearing up to launch the Orange County Veterans Initiative to create an efficient system to find veterans once their 30-to-90-day leave is up.
Their target audience has a notoriously high jobless rate in the real world.
The national unemployment rate for veterans ages 20 to 24 stands at 23.4 percent, and there are 30,000 in that age group in California alone.
“It’s a difficult group to reach. They don’t respond to advertising. I can’t tell you how many companies have jobs right now and say they want to hire vets. We are having trouble finding vets to fill those jobs,” said Sabellico, who is also chapter president of the California Disabled Veteran Business Alliance in Orange County and Los Angeles.
“Passive” recruitment — including job fairs, networking and job ads in newspapers and social media — doesn't seem to work with the younger crowd.
“We need to grab them by the scruff of their neck and say come over here," said Sabellico.
The alliance recently entered into an agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration district office in Santa Ana to compile a list of hiring companies and let vets know about open positions.
The 2013 veteran population projection for Orange County among the early 20s age group is 2,200.
Based on the national unemployment rate, that means 500 of those veterans are presently unemployed in Orange County. Those 500 vets are the target audience for the program.
“They are sitting on the couch playing video games, surfing, decompressing from military stresses and are not focused on the job search or what they are going to do in 90 days,” he said. “They have fun and relax to transition into normal life.”
With the pilot program, phone numbers and email addresses will be logged and kept in a database so that vets can be contacted during or near the end of their leave.
The overall concept is simple: Coordinate employment support on a government level and consolidate a point of contact for vets and job opportunities in one place.
“Plenty of companies want to hire veterans,” he said. “Unfortunately, they are not able to find them. It seems like an easy problem but it’s not.”
Lt. Col. Thomas Fries, executive officer of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, said Sabellico hit the nail on the head.
“Getting that communication is difficult,” said Fries, during a monthly Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) luncheon on the base in late December. “They are thinking about those 90 or even 30 days, ‘what am I going to do with it, where am I going to go and have fun — then I’ll figure it out.’”
Once discharged, Marines disperse into the community, particularly in Southern California, they are hard to reach.
“When you leave there’s no requirement to keep in touch with the core," explained Sabellico. “At the end of the leave they go, ‘Oh crap, I need to get a job.’ At that point we’ve lost track of them and the ability to touch them.”
Fries supported the pilot's plan.
“Go watch football, have beer, love it, do it, but then you are going to see an email pop up," he said.
While MCAS will be on the program’s horizon, the pilot will initially focus on Marines coming out of Camp Pendleton.
“There are far more getting out at Pendleton than others in the area,” said Sabellico. “With the impending draw down we will see more.”
What used to be a 202,000-person strong Marine Corps is now being trimmed down.
“They want to get paperwork done and get out — especially the younger crowd that’s made a decision to leave for whatever reason,” Sabellico said.
Maybe they decided the military isn't right for them, they are part of a drawdown or they chose to do a combat tour for four years and then exit the service.
“They aren’t really thinking about the next step,” he said. “They are thinking about what they want to do on vacation.”
The focus of the pilot is to keep track of those who opt to stay in Southern California.
“If guys getting out are moving to Alaska we are not tracking those guys,” Sabellico said.
Losing track of vets has been an ongoing issue, noted Paul Cassani, who has chaired the San Diego Military Advisory Council focus team on veteran employment for the last few years.
“Once they transition out of the service it is not possible to compel a veteran to sign up and to receive information from the various agencies that are out there trying to support them,” he said.
Exiting Marines are handed a stack of information on veterans employment support.
“It is their decision to use it and to sign up for any of the various support programs," added Cassani, who develops business domestically and internationally for Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT).
The Marines' transition readiness seminar is designed prepare them for what's next.
“Our biggest problem we have right now is we don’t get Marines there early enough,” admitted Fries.
Ideally, if Marines completed the program three to four months before they left the service, it would give them a chance to learn what they need to do to get a job in the real world.
“There are some proactive guys out there with lot of initiative and will go out and get job while still being paid by the Marine Corps for three months. They are collecting two paychecks on their leave,” said Sabellico.
But that’s a perfect-world scenario. For the most part, younger Marines don’t go that route.
“Marine Corps are using them up to the last minute and they have no free time, with jobs to do,” he said.
The SBA has compiled a list of 160 companies that will be educated on the advantages to hiring veterans, like tax breaks.
The companies will be asked to provide solid job descriptions for what they are looking for, to better match military skills with what the companies need.
“Getting the vet into the companies is one thing. Getting companies to recognize they come with great skills and are very dependable with a great work ethic is another,” he said.
The SBA is working closely with local workforce investment boards.
“They have the money and funding and tools to help train vets with resume writing and make sure they are ready for interviews,” he said.
Vets may not come armed with the right training for the job, but that’s where WIBs can help, by paying 50 percent of a vet’s salary up to 90 days in a training-type environment at the hiring company.
“If it’s partially funded by WIB in a federal program it will help ease the pain. They can afford half the salary and then have an outstanding candidate with training," said Sabellico. "We think it will be successful.”
The pilot does not yet have a launch date but will kick off as soon as it locks down an agreement with Camp Pendleton to get in front of the Marines to start collecting their data.
“It’s not in place yet. We’ve struggled to get in front,” he said.
A nearly-completed white paper will be sent to the chief of staff on the base.
“We will see if we can get an audience with him or the commanding general to pitch our case,” he said.
Also charged with helping to jump start the pilot is a recently-discharged Marine captain.
Greg Call came back from Afghanistan last June and left the service two months later. Ever since, the 34-year-old has been an advocate for younger vets transitioning into the real world as CEO and founder of PatriotMove.
“Some I was in command of while I was there," he said. "I am trying to keep a continued sense of duty and working on unemployment.”
He is one of thousands of “post-9/11” vets who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan that currently resides in Orange County, he said.
The 2013 veteran population projection for Orange County is 129,000 veterans. In San Diego, that number stands at 216,000.
“This [program] will be a viable model to grow in different areas. The logical next place is San Diego,” Call said.
For now, San Diego has several support groups to get vets on their feet.
SDMAC, a smorgasbord of companies and individuals tied to the local defense industry, acts as a community liaison to connect veterans with jobs.
“We have sought to facilitate the sharing of information between the groups working with transitioning service members and veterans and the sources of employment so critical to helping these individuals in establishing themselves in careers of value,” Cassani said.
SDMAC doesn’t have the resources to replicate local capabilities that already exist, so it opts to work with existing entities.
“One of the key groups we have found to be most beneficial to partner with is the San Diego Veterans Coalition and another is Reboot,” Cassani said.