Every year, on November 11, the United States honors the service of the country’s veterans. But when a lot of these selfless men and women decide to go back to civilian life, they find no place in the workforce.
After four years in the armed forces, veteran Joshua Pelling found himself in warehouse jobs.
He was no stranger to low-wage occupations. When he was younger, he dropped out of high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He said he was a “young knucklehead” who ended up working “dead end jobs.” In 2008, he joined the Army.
The military gave him a greater sense of purpose, he recalls.
Pelling was assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he worked doing maintenance on Black Hawk helicopters.
In 2012, when he left the Army, finding employment was an uphill battle.
“As veterans we don’t ask for handouts. We just want that chance, and I know many employers that I approached upon getting out didn’t want to give me a chance,” said Pelling.
He is known as a Gulf War-era II Veteran. These are veterans who served after September 2001. Today, there are 3.2 million Gulf War-era II Veterans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
American culture honors the noble service of these men and women, yet 7.2 percent of them are unemployed – a statistic higher than the national average of 5 percent.
“It was very disheartening to feel that way, as somebody who felt like I served my time, and again, really felt like I had some skills to provide to the world. There were some times that I did feel stuck,” Pelling said in reference to his warehouse jobs upon leaving the Army.
He adds that the skills he learned in Fort Lewis carried a certain stigma in the civilian world. He said employers would think soldiers had post-traumatic stress disorder or that what they learned in the armed forces would not translate well into the workplace.
In 2015, after a recommendation from his mom – a navy veteran herself– a quick Google search changed his life. He found NS2 Serves, a nonprofit, based in Virginia created by SAP National Security Services to train veterans in data management, an industry with a high demand for recruits.
The program is free. Veterans receive a monthly stipend, and their travel and room and board is covered, as well.
“They can come here with virtually nothing, and candidly, four or five of them have,” Retired Vice Admiral Joe Kernan said, who is the chairman of the three-month, 10-hour-a-day program. “They came off the street, they didn’t have a place to live, they didn’t have a job and they said, ‘Listen, I’ve got to get through this course, this is my life, everything I own is in my car.’”
So far, NS2 Serves has changed the lives of dozens of veterans. The data-management program has a 100 percent graduation and employment rate. The graduates starting salary in high-tech jobs is $60,000.
“They need a future, they need to be able to take care of their families, they need to develop some level of self-confidence in the civilian community,” said Kernan.
Pelling recovered his confidence. He now works at SAP National Security Services.
“The change has been unbelievable; it’s just been an incredible journey. I have a sense of direction now. I feel that there is hope for the future,” he said.