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Opportunities knock for veterans

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 11:46 p.m.
Lucille Aiello of Monroeville was one of 15,000 attendees showing their appreciation during the 93rd Veterans Day Parade on Saturday in Pittsburgh. Her son, who is in the Reserves, was marching in the parade. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

Wanted: Jarhead to teach fashion design.

The online ad doesn't exactly read that way, but The Art Institute of Pittsburgh is looking to hire a few good Marines.

“We have a fairly robust program for hiring veterans,” said Jay McCaffrey, assistant vice president of marketing and communication at The Art Institute.

The school's ad for a fashion design instructor is posted on We Hire Heroes, a national network of online job boards for veterans.

As the country pauses on Veterans Day to recognize men and women for their military service, more employers are giving veterans a chance to prove themselves.

“We're seeing an increasing trend among companies, both large and small, to hire veterans,” said Paul Heaton, an economist with Rand Corp. “Many companies value the skills people got in the military.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics put the unemployment rate for all veterans at 6.3 percent in October, down from 7.7 percent in October 2011. The rate is lower than the 7.9 percent national average for all workers.

Business owners interviewed for a recent study on hiring veterans said they like the leadership and teamwork they demonstrate — and their skills, character and discipline. Veterans “get it done,” authors Margaret C. Harrell and Nancy Berglass write in “Employing American Veterans: Perspectives from Businesses.”

Yet there are challenges associated with hiring veterans, including difficulty in translating military experience to the civilian workplace and concern about future deployments for National Guard members and reservists.

“They were a fraternity, a brotherhood, in the military, and it's gone when they return,” said Sam McArthur, 39, of Wilkinsburg, who served in Iraq. “Are they going to fit in on the job?”

Employers agree that skills veterans learned in the military make them desirable job candidates.

“The higher level of discipline and professionalism they bring makes them a little more valuable,” said Vance Goble, owner of Liqui-Chill in Oakmont, who is looking for a veteran with heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, experience.

PNC Financial Services Group, which has an active veterans recruiting system, established a Military Employee Group and Recruiting Advisory Council in May as a support network for employee/veterans, their families or people who want to help them.

“It's increasing awareness and understanding,” said Matt Bruhn, PNC operations executive and an Air Force veteran, who is executive sponsor of the group. “Yes, this is civic, but it's also good business.”

Other companies such as Disney and AT&T are implementing that model, Heaton said.

Employers in the Pittsburgh area are looking to fill vacancies for nurses, software engineers, delivery drivers, a tax adviser, geologist, chemist and even a sales “guru” on the We Hire Heroes site.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there,” said Ed Bialobok, a Vietnam War veteran and leader of a team of counselors and therapists at the Veterans Resource Center in White Oak.

Veterans' challenges also include post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“There are issues ... but people have to remember PTSD is an anxiety disorder, not the ‘Rambo mentality,'” Bialobok said. “It can happen to anyone who is subjected to traumatic events, war or tragedy.”

Veterans with disabilities continue to face obstacles to employment, said Joyce A. Bender, founder and CEO of Bender Consulting Services Inc., a Pittsburgh firm that recruits and hires people with disabilities for work in information technology, engineering, finance/accounting, human resources and general business areas.

“Brain injuries and PTSD are the top injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Bender said. “Companies need to open their doors.”

Employers are required by the Americans With Disabilities Act to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities, the Department of Justice said. That could include flexible scheduling, specialized equipment, allowing more frequent work breaks, or lowering desks to accommodate wheelchairs.

They are not required to make accommodations that would represent an “undue hardship” for the employer or result in significant difficulty or expense.

The government offers incentives to companies that hire veterans. The Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 makes tax credits available, ranging from $2,400 to $9,600, depending on whether the veteran is disabled and how long he or she was unemployed. They apply to individuals who begin work from Nov. 22, 2011, through Dec. 31, 2012.

The men and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan would become good employees with proper training and opportunity, said Jack Bergman, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general who is military liaison for Education Management Corp., parent company of The Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

“These kids can be like a diamond in the rough,” Bergman said.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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