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Recruiting technology may be hurting veteran employment

Recruiting technology could be contributing to a higher unemployment rate for young veterans. A startup run by a former sub commander is attempting to change this.

Young veterans have a much higher unemployment rate than their civilian counterparts, and recruiting technology may share some of the blame. The problem is that military skills aren't translating well into civilian skills. Noel Gonzalez, a former submarine commanding officer, is trying to change this.

Gonzalez is heading a startup, SkillMil, a recent spinoff by SRI International, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit research institute. SkillMil's recruiting technology can extract military training and certifications from records and create a profile that has minimal military jargon. It takes the skills associated with military experience and converts them into a LinkedIn-type profile.

Veterans "have had a serious problem finding the job they want and then normally settle for something that they're not happy with," Gonzalez said. Officers, he said, can usually overcome the challenges of finding a job, but enlisted veterans often change employers three to four times in the first two years of employment. "They cannot articulate what they have done into something that companies understand," he said, adding that many veterans are underemployed.

The military has a very specific set of skills, titles and jobs, and "that language is not well-understood by general recruiting, hiring and training software," said Hyoun Park, founder and CEO of Amalgam Insights, a technology consulting and strategy firm. "There is this gap that needs to be bridged," he said.

To really understand a veteran's skills, you need to look at all the tasks and skills associated with the military, Park said. "That's a level of depth that does not currently exist in the corporate world," he said.

Unemployment rate for young vets is high

[Veterans] have had a serious problem finding the job they want and then normally settle for something that they're not happy with.
Noel GonzalezCEO and founder, SkillMil

The recruiting technology problem that SkillMil is attempting to address is evident in a recent U.S. Labor Department report on veteran unemployment rates.

Among Gulf War-era II veterans, from September 2001 forward, the unemployment rate between the ages of 25 and 34 was 6%. That is significantly higher than similarly aged nonveterans, at 4.5%. But this unemployment rate improved dramatically for older vets.

For Gulf War-era II male veterans age 45 to 54, the unemployment rate was 1.5% versus 3.4% for similarly aged nonveterans.

The data suggests that, once older military veterans integrate into civilian life "they are in really high demand -- 1.5% unemployment is unbelievably low," said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm.

But the relative high unemployment rate of younger veterans, those 34 and younger, is evidence of a problem, Challenger said. It "means that it takes a while to figure out how to translate those military skills into civilian life."

Research was funded by US defense grant

SRI used an approximately $5 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant for semantic reasoning system development, which is a rules engine that can quickly connect disparate facts.

The technology wasn't being developed specifically to help veterans. But Gonzalez, who was working at the time on a military fellowship at SRI, recognized that the software could address the problem of making military skills understandable to hiring managers.

SkillMil functions as a marketplace. Employers can submit jobs, and its recruiting technology engine will match the veteran's experience with the job. It will also tell veterans what training and skills they may need to become a perfect job match for a specific position. It's free to use for veterans and spouses. SkillMil also helps employers write job ads to reduce incorrect matches, but employers can use a Boolean search as well.

To provide the best data possible for SkillMil's matching algorithm, Gonzalez said, the firm hired several veterans from across the military services to create a specialized database with its own taxonomies and ontologies. SRI continues to provide technical help with SkillMil's recruiting engine, he said.

Employers fail to see vet's skill set

Job searching for an enlisted veteran can be frustrating, Gonzalez said. A petty officer, for instance, who has experience running nuclear engineering on an aircraft carrier or submarine, may get turned away from jobs because all the employer sees is "nuclear" scattered throughout a resume and doesn't see a connection, Gonzalez said.

In the case of the nuclear engineer, SkillMil's engine will show the employer how that person not only has managerial skills but technical capability as well and can be trained as a regional manager of a firm's operation, Gonzalez said.

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