According to a January report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a subsequent news account published by USA Today, the jobless rate among veterans who fought in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, or both, was 12.1 percent two years ago. In January, the mark had dropped to 9.9 percent.
It is a significant improvement, but here’s the catch. In May, the nation’s unemployment rate among all workers was 7.6 percent. Closer to home, the Tennessee jobless figure was 8.3. And closest to home, the Bradley County mark was 7.8. So veterans still lag behind at all levels.
Here’s the even bigger catch. With U.S. involvement now winding down in Afghanistan, it is estimated more than 300,000 veterans will leave the military each of the next four years. That adds up to 1.2 million more potential workers entering the American workforce.
With good reason, some labor analysts fear the impact of this wave of veterans — many of whom are ages 18 to 24 — on the jobs market.
One who has his finger on the pulse of welcoming so many U.S. veterans back into the workforce mainstream in such a short period of time is retired Army Col. David Sutherland, director of the Center for Military and Veterans Community Services in Washington, D.C.
Speaking with USA Today almost six months ago, Sutherland admitted jobless numbers among American veterans currently leave him “cautiously optimistic.”
The longtime military man explained his mindset.
“... I see a trend on the horizon with the upcoming draw-down of our forces, where if we don’t do more community-based support, that [jobless] number will go back up,” Sutherland told the national newspaper.
His concerns point to the importance of an action taken May 22 by the Whirlpool Corporation in which the company-sanctioned Whirlpool Veterans Association was established. A short time later, the WVA Cleveland Chapter was born. The Cleveland Daily Banner was invited to attend the local Whirlpool chapter’s second organizational session held at the new Benton Pike plant on a Saturday morning. We reported on the local affiliate’s progress in a front-page article in the Sunday edition.
The corporate mission of the WVA runs parallel to the Cleveland theme; that is, “... support the recruiting, on-boarding and retention of veterans and their families into the Whirlpool workforce and community,” and “... help Whirlpool optimize and utilize the benefits of a veteran workforce.”
In the words of Mike Bullard, a CNC Lean Tech at the Whirlpool plant who serves as Network Lead for the Cleveland-based WVA, one of the local group’s goals will be to recruit veterans to work for Whirlpool and preferably at the local operations. Those veterans who do will be among good company. In Bradley County alone, Whirlpool employs more than 2,000 workers; some 1,500 are plant associates and the others work for Whirlpool Cleveland Customer eXperience Center (call center) or the Global Product Organization which includes engineering, research and design.
Such a move to actively recruit U.S. veterans is not exclusive — nor should it be — to Whirlpool.
Veterans are a tested and dedicated group. They can become valued assets to any company if given the opportunity. In the words of Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, who spoke at the recent WVA Cleveland session, a veteran’s key strength is his, and her, work ethic.
“I’m real enthused about the mission of the Whirlpool Veterans Association,” the longtime mayor told our newspaper.
We hope the entire community is as well — because another Cleveland-based industry is stepping up to lead the way in a time of domestic need.
We urge other Bradley County employers to do the same.