Veterans are finding an easier time finding work in the Columbia Basin.
The statewide jobless rate for veterans is 3.8 percent, while the state jobless figure is 6.9 percent. In 2015, the veterans’ jobless rate for Richland and Kennewick was 3 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
“It is lower than the unemployment for the rest of the nation,” said Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for Washington’s Employment Security Department.
Three years ago, significant Hanford layoffs translated to difficulties in finding jobs for veterans competing with engineers and high-tech people who lost jobs, said Nick Erickson, one of two ESD veterans’ specialists at WorkSource Columbia Basin, 815 N. Kellogg St. in Kennewick.
Erickson is a former infantry sergeant first class. Sam Rabideau is a former Navy petty officer who was a crew member on antisubmarine and surveillance aircraft.
Now that the local economy has improved, former officers, senior sergeants and senior petty officers with nuclear, electronics or mechanical backgrounds have no problems finding jobs in the Columbia Basin, Erickson said.
“There’s quite a few employers with jobs,” he said.
Meanwhile, a national shortage of semi-truck drivers has been a help for former enlisted service members. However, the overnight and multiple-day trips have discouraged some service members who left the military for a more stable home life, Erickson said.
However, some military skills — such as those of an infantry soldier — do not translate easily to comparable civilian jobs. That means veterans used to earning $40,000 to $50,000 a year in the military may find themselves in a security job that starts out at $12 to $14 an hour, or about $29,000 a year — a major financial shock, he said. That person will have to go back to school, or pay his or her dues over again in climbing the ranks.
A major advantage ex-military people have is that “they have great soft skills” such as self-discipline, Erickson said.
The Kennewick ESD office offers class classes on interviews and resumés, plus help on finding jobs. People in its Veterans Access program on average find a job in eight weeks. The average wage of those successful job seekers is $22 an hour.
Rabideau works with ex-military people who are homeless, have criminal records, are recently discharged from the military or are disabled. He averages 32 clients a month, while averaging 17 placements out of that number.
The Kennewick ESD office is helped by a veterans-oriented federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit program, a new state veterans-oriented business-and-occupation tax credit program and a new YesVets program.
A bipartisan bill introduced in 2015 by Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, provides a credit on a company’s business-and-occupation taxes.
Under that bill, if a business hired an unemployed veteran, it would receive a credit on its B&O taxes of 20 percent of that veteran’s pay up to $1,500. O’Ban’s bill ended up in a GOP budget bill dealing with tax exemptions that passed both chambers and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The YesVets program sprang from a 2015 bill introduced by Rep. Gina McCabe, R-Goldendale, which the Legislature unanimously passed. The 2015 law requires that the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, the Employment Security Department and the Department of Commerce work with local chambers of commerce, economic development groups and businesses to share information on employing veterans.
Originally, YesVets began in February as a pilot program in Goldendale, but interest grew and the program quickly spread to the rest of the state by June, Guthrie said.
In the Columbia Basin, 24 employers participate in the YesVets program and have hired 72 veterans far.
“We have one of the most successful programs in the nation. …We’ve definitely received interest from other states,” Guthrie said.
Energy Northwest recently received kudos from the state Employment Security Department for creating job opportunities for veterans.
Of its 1,089 employees, 300 are veterans, and 35 percent of the company’s new hires in 2016 were veterans. Energy Northwest frequently participates in WorkSource Columbia Basin hiring events and workshops that help veterans.
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