Common Skills Language Project connecting military veterans with civilian jobs

A new approach to help military veterans returning to Texas find civilian jobs has resulted in new online tools to link job seekers, employers and even colleges.

“This could be the future of job placement and hiring, not just for our military veterans but also to help our employers,” said Rich Froeschle, director of the Labor Market and Career Information Department at the Texas Workforce Commission. Froeschle and some Texas computer programmers got together four years ago to try to address the problem of veterans getting out of the military then spending long periods of time unemployed. These unemployed veterans had resumes that were filled with military occupation code listings that made sense to people on a military base but not to most hiring managers in the civilian world.

The miscommunication in describing skills and experience between job seekers and employers has plagued the United States for decades but has intensified since the Great Recession, especially for recent veterans, said Froeschle.

The issue of lingering unemployment among military veterans while employers state they are not getting the proper job applicants is a national issue. That is part of the reason the Bureau of Labor Statistics found in 2014 that while the U.S. unemployment rate was at 6.6% in March, the unemployment rate for veterans who had served in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was 9.0%.

“The initial idea was to help get veterans into jobs faster so they weren’t using up unemployment and other social safety nets, which have been under a lot of stress,” Froeschle said.  “We also did it because it was the right thing to do.”

The TWC economists and Texas programmers got to work developing a new software tools that uses algorithms that combine common language patterns with standard job description language.

The result was the Common Skills Language Project.

The TWC economists, employment counselors and programmers created a library of 3,000 skill statements or detailed work activities. These were common phrases to explain tasks and skills used to describe 900 occupations.

In 2014, the Common Skills Language Project spun out its first tool – Texas Skills To Work.

Texas Skills To Work is an online tool that allows a military veteran or other job seeker to copy and paste their resume into a translator program. The program then converts the resume into a list of hundreds of specific skills. Next, the program goes onto the Internet and finds dozens of current job postings in which an employer is looking for a worker with similar specific skills – all using the common skills language.

In 2013, the Labor Department funded the initial Common Skills Language Project specifically to help Army veterans in Texas.

That initial grant also funded the hiring and training of Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVERs) and Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Placement Specialists (DVOPs), who were placed in TWC’s Workforce Solutions offices across the state, as well as at some college career counseling offices.

“A tool such as Texas Skills To Work could be a tremendous help to the employment staff working with these service members,” said Bob Gear Jr., director of the Texas Veterans Leadership Program.

“This web site is awesome,” said Lisette Dorner, career counselor in the Army Career and Alumni Program at Fort Bliss in El Paso. “It’s pretty cool.”

“I’m actually impressed with this,” said Dinetha Thompson, program manager at National Guard Job Connection Education Program in Houston. “Texas has always been an amazing state to run employment programs that help service members.”

Still, Thompson said she is concerned that the word about the Texas Skills To Work program and training is not getting out enough, particularly to National Guard and Reserve units, which have limited abilities to help their service members.

Gear agrees.

“In most situations, the Guard and Reserve have fewer resources than their active duty counterparts,” Gear said. “So tools such as the detailed work activities analysis and the Texas Skills To Work could be a tremendous help to the staff working with these service members.”

Gear points to his own verification of military experience and training (VMET) document as evidence that the Texas Skills To Work is needed. Gear’s VMET was an 8-page official overview of his entire 20-year military career as a master sergeant and tank driver in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood, and it was full of military and federal acronyms that formed an alphabet soup of letters with little meaning to employers outside the military.

Gear has been working with the economists and programmers to modify the Common Skills Language Project programs inside the Texas Skills To Work web tools. He has helped include information from Navy engineering programs and Army leadership programs so that those skill training programs can better translate into what civilian employers say they want in new workers.

“I’ve tried Texas Skills To Work,” said Shandra Sponslwer, deputy branch manager of family support services with the Texas State Guard at Camp Mabry in Austin. “It’s a great tool that I can see helping a lot of Guard and Reserve members and veterans better translate their KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities) into civilian terms for resumes and also help them see what they are most likely qualified to be in the civilian job force.”

Froeschle, Gear and their teams have been interacting with the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as defense contractors in Texas, to modify the Common Skills Language Project and Texas Skills To Work tools so that they help both job seekers and employers. In addition, TWC and the Texas Veterans Leadership Program are further defining ‘job mergers,’ which result when employers combine some tasks and skills of different jobs into new occupations.  Those new occupations will be included in the Common Skills Language Project and Texas Skills To Work tools.

Meanwhile, Texas State Technical College has taken the Common Skills Language Project programs and is moving forward to help colleges see what skills regional employers say they want for the occupations they are hiring for and how that skill training is included – or not included – in class curriculums at community colleges and universities.

Michael Bettersworth, associate vice chancellor for technology advancement at TSTC, said the Common Skills Language Project is like mapping the human genome. Yet instead of mapping the unseen connections between the cells of a single human being, this technology is helping map the unseen connections between hiring managers, job seekers, economic developer, college professors and public policy makers.

That skill mapping is generating some initial excitement.

For example, there is Ryan Glore, a 23 years old who is about to re-enter the Texas workforce in October.  Born in Houston, Glore graduated with his high diploma from San Marcos Baptist Academy and soon after enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served two tours in Afghanistan, and now he wants to move to San Antonio to work and be close to family. But he sees that a growing number of jobs in San Antonio want applicants with a college degree and specific work experience. Glore’s resume shows a variety of skills involving computers, logistics, weapons, construction, data analysis and even administrative experience, but he hasn’t had time to complete a college degree. However, he used the Texas Skills To Work Tool, which produced a list of more than 50 job matches for him in San Antonio.

Glore said the analysis produced by the Texas Skills To Work Tool is already helping him better understand the current jobs market outside of Fort Bliss.  Seven weeks before his scheduled discharge from the Army, Glore had already applied online for several jobs in San Antonio and landed a job interview at the San Antonio-based insurance company USAA.

“The detailed work activities tool is useful in finding employment for veterans, even those currently out of state who are trying to move to Texas,” said Gabriel Lopez, assistant director of the Texas Veterans Leadership Program, who has been using the Texas Skills To Work online tool with military veterans who are trying to become Texans.