MADISON, Wis. --
The Wisconsin National Guard recently launched a new initiative to help unemployed and underemployed service members and their spouses gain employment.
The Wisconsin Employment Resource Connection (WERC) began last October as a result of discussions between Wisconsin National Guard agencies to address unemployment issues. According to the most recent civilian employment information survey, unemployment in the Wisconsin Army National Guard may be as high as 14 percent.
"It came out of necessity," said Capt. Joseph Ledger, officer in charge of WERC. "Prior to October, we really didn't have an employment assistance program at all."
The Wisconsin National Guard had partnered with the state Department of Workforce Development and the state Department of Veterans Affairs previously on a series of job fairs for veterans, and publicized online resources to its members. While this partnership will continue, WERC more directly engages the client by providing a personalized experience for each service member, tailored to meet the individual needs of the service member.
"Obviously we collect resources and vet them, but it's all one-on-one rapport," Ledger said. "We get them on our tracker until they're sick of us or they're employed. We hang onto them."
The level of engagement varies for each individual, Ledger explained. Some clients only request information on job openings, while others receive professional help building resumes and preparing for interviews. Of the more than 220 people to contact the WERC office since it opened, Ledger estimated that he and his assistant Tiffany Addair actively monitor between 50 and 70 clients. Mark Sier, an officer with a Wisconsin Army National Guard aviation unit and an Operation New Dawn veteran, recently joined the WERC team and understands what it means to be unemployed.
He had spent several years on military orders since 2007, first as a military recruiter, then attending flight school before working as full-time support for an emergency domestic response contingency assignment prior to deploying with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment. The contingency assignment - a temporary stateside mission which rotates regionally - had relocated while Sier was deployed, so he returned from Iraq without a job.
"It was difficult when I came back," Sier said, "especially when you already have a four-year degree and you're looking for more of a professional position. That's where I think our program can come in and make a big difference."
The employment needs vary as well, from entry-level work to a senior enlisted member transitioning from full-time military to civilian employment.
The WERC office follows up with its clients to make sure the resources meet their needs and to track how the job search is going. New job opportunities are posted weekly on the WERC website. Sending e-mails to units, attending Soldier readiness programs and Yellow Ribbon reintegration events, and being part of Gov. Scott Walker's "Year of the Veteran" website helps raise awareness about WERC and its services.
"The challenging thing right now is customers telling us [if they are finding work,]" Ledger said. "Right now we've placed five people that I know of. I have a feeling there's a lot more who haven't told us yet."
Sier said they are developing criteria to measure how effective WERC is in helping service members gain employment.
"They may feel they didn't use us, especially if they made the interview appointment themselves," he explained. "But if we helped develop their resume, gave them a mock interview, even [provided] the job listing, they might not think that they used us, but we were probably there assisting."
The WERC office - located in the Armed Forces Reserve Center at 6001 Manufacturers Lane in Madison - is open to all service members regardless of branch of service. Ledger acknowledged that the program provides a definite benefit to the Wisconsin National Guard.
"Some of our folks are finding work out of state, and traveling back to Wisconsin for drill isn't cost-effective," he said. "If we can find them a job here, we can keep them drilling here."
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