Today, a day when the nation turns in tribute to those who have served in our country’s defense, many Maine veterans will struggle with emotions of disappointment and frustration. And their frustration will be well-justified.

As a country, we honor members of the Armed Forces for their service. But when that term of service ends and they return to the civilian work force, too many veterans find themselves out of work, unable to translate their military skills into civilian employment.

The problem is particularly acute in Maine. And until recently, it has largely gone unnoticed.

Maine has a proud military tradition. Our state has one of the highest proportions of military veterans of any state in the nation. And that tradition continues among today’s youth. In 2010, Maine had the highest Armed Forces recruitment rate of any state in the country.

But the current economic climate has created problems for Maine veterans as they attempt to transition back to the civilian work force.

The unemployment rate for veterans is significantly higher than for the general population. For younger veterans, the job challenges are severe. In September 2011, more than one-third of all veterans under age 25 were out of work, as the nationwide unemployment rate for this group topped 35 percent.

Maine can’t afford to squander the talents of returning veterans. We know from studies by the Maine Development Foundation that one of our state’s chief impediments to economic expansion is Maine’s slow population growth and aging demographics. It’s clear that we need to fully utilize the potential of every Maine worker.

If returning veterans cannot find work because their skills don’t match civilian work-force needs, then we need to provide training so they can overcome that barrier. This year, we’re taking concrete steps to address the problem. And we’re calling upon Maine’s business community to join us.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Maine MEP) are launching Jobs Now for Maine Vets, a new private-sector job training initiative.

The initiative will provide work force training for veterans using Maine MEP’s Mobile Outreach Skills Training (MOST) program. MOST is a rapid response skills training program that is tailored to specific employment opportunities.

The program begins by working with manufacturers to identify employment needs. A customized curriculum is then developed.

As a condition for utilizing the training program, the employer must agree to extend an offer of employment to all successful graduates.

Unemployed veterans participating in the program will enter an intensive two-week targeted skills training program aboard a high-tech mobile classroom brought to the employer’s place of business.

Upon completing the training class, the veterans will immediately begin their new full-time jobs. Over the next six months, the MOST program team will provide on-the-job training and mentoring to develop the trainees’ proficiency and ensure a high job retention rate, which is critical to employers.

This customized mobile training program has proved to be a success in states where it has been implemented, with a training completion rate of 97 percent, a job placement rate of 95 percent, and a job retention rate after six months of 91 percent. These results far exceed the placement and retention rates of traditional job training programs at only a fraction of the cost per job.

The Jobs Now for Maine Vets initiative will complement a national initiative sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to encourage companies to step up and hire veterans. Hiring our Heroes is a nationwide program that hosts job fairs for veterans and military spouses in an effort to encourage companies to hire veterans. Its goal is to match veterans’ talents with career opportunities in the private sector.

We see Jobs Now for Maine Vets as a natural expansion of the national program. Job fairs are a good means for matching employers with veterans, but we also want to ensure that veterans who need additional skill training have an opportunity to receive it.

Our program has begun working with manufacturers to identify job training needs and is calling upon companies across the state to provide financial support for the initiative.

As a community, we owe those who have served in the Armed Forces a debt of gratitude. Jobs Now for Maine Vets offers a concrete way for Maine’s business community to express its appreciation for their service, at the same time that we deepen the state’s labor pool and strengthen the economy.

For more information about the Jobs Now for Maine Vets contact the Maine MEP at 207-623-0680 or visit the website at www.JobsForMaineVets.org.

– Special to the Press Herald