WDAY: The News Leader

Published January 03, 2013, 10:33 AM

Push to help Minnesota veterans find job pays off

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An intensive effort to help Minnesota veterans find civilian jobs is paying off.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An intensive effort to help Minnesota veterans find civilian jobs is paying off.

National Guard officials say most of the 2,700 soldiers from the Minnesota 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division who returned from the Mideast last spring have found work. Of the more than 500 who returned without civilian jobs, Minnesota Public Radio reported Thursday, only 35 are still looking for work.

"It's been a great accomplishment," said Capt. Ron Jarvi Jr., who helps soldiers connect with unemployment resources.

Guard officials didn't wait for the troops to come home. Instead, they took the help to them, overseas. Last spring, a team of military officials accompanied government, education and business leaders to Kuwait to help prepare troops for the job hunt.

Representatives from Target, U.S. Bank, Best Buy, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce spent a week on a military base and led troops through a rigorous set of exercises designed to help prepare them to find work. The exercises included sessions on resume writing and career planning and mock interviews.

Employers found the soldiers focused and energetic, said Bruce Kiefner a recruiter for Best Buy.

"They have that get-the-job-done attitude, and that is what has really attracted us to them," Kiefner said. "They are serious yet they have a personal side and that is where we like to bridge that gap. We want the serious leader but we also want someone that can take a breath and have fun with the team — and those are typically our best leaders."

Once soldiers were stateside, the initiative to help them intensified. Specialists connected returning soldiers with job and education resources through a coordinated network of private companies and the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The program aims to connect veterans with regional workforce centers, make sure their resumes are updated and posted online and determine what they need for experience or education so soldiers can concentrate on filling those gaps. It also encourages them to be persistent in their job search.

One of the success stories is Capt. Jeff Pratt, 46, of Owatonna, who helped unemployed soldiers find work through his former job with the Guard. Besides two deployments to Iraq in the last decade, Pratt also had decades of civilian work experience as a 401(k) plan administrator and financial services salesman. But after nearly 20 years in the Guard, even he had difficulties landing the kind of civilian job he wanted.

The new program helped him focus his efforts and find the position he was hoping for. He began working this week as a risk-management analyst for United Health Group.

"I feel great about it. I am very excited," he said. "In the military I'm a logistician, out in the world I was a 401k administrator and salesperson, and the two really drove me into how do you solve problems. And the idea behind solving problems is just risk management. So it really came full circle for me."