Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Unintended Consequences?

I just saw a story on CNN about veterans having trouble getting jobs when they leave the military.  The vets who were being interviewed were saying things like "it used to be that employers went out of their way to hire vets but now they just want someone who will increase their productivity."  I find it hard to believe that employers didn't want to increase productivity before.  And this got me wondering why it is that vets don't increase productivity anymore.  Here is my purely speculative answer - really intended to illicit a further discussion from our more militarily connected Citizens:

In the new military, civilian contractors are increasingly assigned the jobs that used to be done by men and women in uniform.  Jobs like running the motor pool, driving trucks, running kitchens and mess halls, even things like electrical work are increasingly being done by contractors or by guardsmen and reservists who probably already have careers outside the military related to the jobs they do in uniform (like my cousin who is an electrician in an Ohio guard engineering unit).  The goal of this new military is to have the uniformed service people take over the combat jobs and leave the non-combat stuff for the contractors.  How many employers need someone who can effectively search and clear an Iraqi village of bad guys?  We only need so many cops.  

Is the high unemployment among vets an unintended consequence of the new military?  I'd also be curious to see if Navy vets have better job prospects because civilian contractors can't work aboard ship.  


Anonymous said...

I bet it has more to do with the general reluctance of many companies to hire entry-level workers. Corporate culture seems to reward hiring a bunch of $10/hour temps and rounding it out with well-paid senior staff. This isn't great for long-term growth, but it seems to be par for the course.

The last clerical hire at my office is ex-military and he's fairly wonderful. Bright, eager to learn, and quite the self-starter. He also seems to understand that learning new stuff and volunteering for new projects is a good idea for overall job security.

One thing I do wonder about is whether human resources people understand the value of military service v. a particular educational qualification. I'm willing to believe the hiring folks would pass over a guy with 3 years of military experience and an associate's degree for someone who worked as a Starbucks barista for 3 years and has a BA in marketing. Experience is experience, right?

-Seventh Sister

Dr. Strangelove said...

Personally, I doubt the CNN story. I don't think employers have gone out of their way to hire veterans for a long time--for example, I am pretty sure employers did not go out of their way to hire Vietnam veterans. If current veterans are having difficulty finding employment, I would guess the main reason is just that everyone is having trouble right now. Of course, being low-skilled (as RbR and Seventh Sister note) is another contributing factor. But I don't think they are losing skills: as Seventh Sister points out, those jobs of running mess halls, etc. are largely lower-skill anyway.

Raised By Republicans said...

I heard that in the Navy, everyone has a secondary specialization in fire fighting (fires on ships being particularly threatening).

It may be true that working in a mess hall is low skill but running one isn't. And it used to be that the Army et al trained all their own electricians, plumbers, auto-mechanics, semi-truck drivers (it's not just a big car) etc. Now they hire outside people to do an increasing share of those jobs.

RE: Vietnam vets. I suspect the vets in that era that had problems getting jobs were the combat infantry guys (grunts). They would have been the most visible "vets" but not the only ones. Many more people served in the 60s and 70s outside of Vietnam (like my uncle who spent 4 years in S. Korea during the Vietnam war). I wonder if the guys who were "in the rear with the gear" had fewer problems getting jobs in part because they would have been the ones with the most obvious civilian applications of their skills.

Could it be that increasingly, Army training is being limited to how to destroy things and kill people. Those may be necessary skills on a battle field and be difficult to master but they are next to useless in the civilian labor market. The folks "in the rear with the gear" are now already civilians, technically, and so they aren't getting included in the employment stats.

All that said, Dr. S. is right to think that Chicken Noodle News may have just made the whole thing up.

Dr. Strangelove said...

RbR: I'm glad your level of respect for CNN appears to be similar to mine :-)

I think CNN was probably trying to dish out some heart-tugging social commentary for the holidays about how our poor, poor veterans are now neglected by an ungrateful public. I only mentioned Vietnam because it sounded like the reporter conveniently forgot that the era of universally-lauded veterans is long gone: for better or worse, that shift happened a long time ago.

I don't think the outsourcing of mundane skilled jobs is really an issue, though. (I'm not saying "low-skilled" anymore because you're right: running a mess hall requires management skills, perhaps accounting skills as well. I overlooked that.) While blue-collar vocations (e.g. plumbing) are not offered as much, I'm pretty sure, I have seen studies indicating that today's soldiers receive more advanced technical training than ever before. While many of these higher-level skills are, as you say, increasingly in the context of warfighting, the increasing use of computers in warfighting means these skills have a lot of carry-over to the civilian side. The skills may be more specialized, but the tools are more general.

I think Seventh Sister has a good point that the comparatively lower educational background is a factor here. While I believe HR appreciates the value of military service just fine, they may (as Seventh Sister says) over-value educational qualifications comparatively speaking.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I get the sense that what Vets are saying is that they knew (anecdotally) that employers would (sometimes) hire vets based on their military background even though it meant having to spend some additional time training them for this civilian task, rather than hiring another civilian with a more pertinent experience record. Now they discover that this perceived generosity is absent. I am not surprised.

I note with some grit that these people making those hiring decisions are by and large Republicans, probably many with "support our troops" ribbons on their cars.

I am saddened also to see that this probably indicates that the (conservative) business owners who would publicly and self-righteously say things like "there's no training as good as the military" always really thought of hiring vets as some sort of charity work.

Either that or they just don't want to hire kids with tattoos.

Uswest said...

Another thing to consider is that in the past, university degrees or any post-secondary training was something of a luxury. Even in the 1970s, my aunts were going to Jr. College just to get secretarial skills, nothing more. So a military man was a better bet for an employer because he had some practical training. Now, practically everyone has some post-secondary education, which ties in with Seventh Sister's comment.

Also, I'm guessing, based on my many WWII vet acquaintances, that the WWII guys didn't do drugs. They smoked, drank, and catted around. But they didn't get high.

Many of the Vietnam guys came home so strung out, they weren't fit to work and it gave vets a bad reputation. The PTSD was also a big problem because there was no support for these guys, so they kept taking the drugs just to cope. So it made many of them undesirable. But I hate to generalize. I have no proof of this, just my general impressions.

Many military guys that I know get out and go back into civilian government jobs where there are veterans' preferences and usually where they have specialized skills the government needs. They also get jobs with contractors depending on what they were trained to do. And if the have any type of clearance, the are set for a job. I am thinking of contractors like Blackwater or Halliburton, KBR, etc where ex-special ops guys go work. Many go into the local police forces as well. The former officers have no trouble getting jobs, but then those guys have college educations.

So I agree with Dr. S. I think the CNN article was something of a "lifestyle" type article.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think that WWII vets were the exception and we mistake them for the norm. Vets after the Civil War and WWI were not well received after the wars ended. The "wild west" was wilder because Civil War vets with histories of violence were running around in a lawless society with guns and untreated PTS. Wyatt Earp's brothers were Civil War vets. Wild Bill Hickock fought for the Union in Kansas. Many of the members of the James-Younger gang rode with Quantrill's Raiders (who massacred 200 male residents of Lawrence, KS).

And after WWI, we shouldn't forget the Bonus Army.

After WWII, we were the only economy left standing and things were very very good for the vets coming home. I wonder if the idea that vets are entitled to a good economic situation when they return from war isn't entirely based on the fallacy that WWII and its aftermath was normal. The reality is more likely to be like the Civil War or WWI or Vietnam.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm not sure how good things were for vets after WWII. There was great fear in 1944 that the postwar period would encounter immediately a massive economic recession. One of the reasons for the GI Bill in 1944 was the knowledge that there would be no place to find a place for the millions of unemployed vets in an economy that couldn't employ them. Plans were made for their reintegration into society. Then the igniting of the Cold War helped keep the economy on a war footing for decades to come. Meanwhile, African Americans returning to the South were returned to segregated employment. Women who served in the auxiliary corps were not welcomed into the workforce.

Pombat said...

Dr.S: re your comment about using computers and etc - "The skills may be more specialized, but the tools are more general" - unfortunately, most recruiters these days seem to be too dumb to realise this.

It may be different in the US, but I've been job hunting in Australia here, and pretty much the only places that do their own recruiting are the government defence agencies, and companies too small to be able to afford a recruitment agency. Everyone else uses agencies, which appear to be staffed by idiots who either couldn't make it as car salesmen / real estate agents, or just prefer working in an office, pretending to be important.

I even spoke to one, who having read my CV, including the whole paragraph about my having done (computer) modelling & simulation, having an understanding of agent based technologies etc (i.e. *programming*), looked at me with a completely straight face and told me that the problem was, he needed someone with strong computer skills, particularly Excel, and he just wasn't seeing that on my CV. He nearly fell off his chair when I told him how I'm more than happy with Excel, and I can write macros from scratch. He attempted to redeem himself though - he asked if I understood arrays (Excel-speak for matrices). I have a maths degree.

Back closer to topic though, I agree with everyone who's been pointing out that in the olden days, vets weren't just grunts, but came from a range of backgrounds within the forces, a lot of which have now been outsourced to contractors for convenience, all of which means that the percentage of vets that were employable was higher then.