North Carolina has the fourth-largest active duty military presence nationally at 778,000 and the eighth-largest veteran population at over 683,000. However, according to a recent study by Wallethub, North Carolina currently ranks 21st in the nation for “ability to provide a comfortable military retirement,” behind neighboring Virginia and South Carolina (which rank second and fifth respectively). The ranking is based on 27 metrics clustered into three categories: economic environment, quality of life, and access to health care. In economic environment, North Carolina ranks 31st. In North Carolina, 32,000 veterans are unemployed, and 48,000 have income below the poverty level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, seven percent of veterans are homeless (which is 12 percent of the of the state’s adult homeless population).
Gainful employment via owning one’s own business also lags for veterans. Veteran-owned small businesses have 16% lower sales than those of the same size owned by nonveterans, and veterans have more difficulty accessing capital and social networks. Read more from Military Times. Veteran business owners reported lower credit scores on average, as well as a greater rate of credit denial, driven by insufficient credit history and frequent moves. Another of the potential drivers of this gap is that many veterans relocate somewhere other than their hometown after serving – where they may not have networks and have to build them from scratch. Therefore, business and networking skills are key to improving self-employment prospects for veterans transitioning into civilian life.
Craven County is home to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, a base that provides aerial support and maintenance for the Marine Corps and employs thousands of active duty military members. Craven County has a significant number of veteran residents, at 16% of the total adult population, which necessitates that many local resources are designed to meet the needs of veterans. Given the importance of MCAS Cherry Point and large veteran population, the county implemented a program to help veterans make the switch from the military to civilian jobs. Craven Community College is recognized as a leader in helping veterans transition to the civilian workforce via their Veteran Transition and Preparatory Training Program (VTPT).
VTPT has two arms, including the Military Academic Skills Program, which opens up further employment and education opportunities by improving academic skills. The course focuses on reading, grammar, and mathematics skills. In the second program, Tools for Advanced Manufacturing, veterans learn how to transfer military skills and experience to civilian careers in the manufacturing sector. The Tools for Advanced Manufacturing for Veterans (TAMV) class teaches participants how to transfer their military skills and experience onto their resume in language recognized by manufacturing employers. Veterans receive training in both hard and soft skills, and upon completion receive important certifications they can use when applying for manufacturing jobs. Both programs’ classes meet every weekday for 8 hours over a three-week period and are open to military spouses. The goal of the program is to ease students’ transitions into civilian life and connect them with job opportunities in North Carolina.
Source: UNC-TV. Boots to Business seminar at MCAS Cherry Point
To address disparities in veteran self-employment, Craven Community College and MCAS Cherry Point also offer programs that teach business essentials. One example, Boots to Business, is a cooperative program that allows students to learn essential skills needed to start and run their own business. Also open to military dependents, this program is offered multiple times a year to meet the needs of transitioning service members and their families. Wanda Bennett, the seminar’s instructor, says that veterans are often successful in entrepreneurial ventures because they “have a skill set coming out of the military that many civilians don’t have… [including] discipline, training, integrity, clarity, and excellence.” She says this program allows veterans to direct these skills toward running their own businesses, helping them with the confidence they need to succeed with self-employment.
Craven Community College and MCAS Cherry Point are the key partners in these innovative preparation programs, focusing on developing the individual skills of veterans. On the employer side, North Carolina for Military Employment (NC4ME) is a comprehensive public-private partnership designed to make North Carolina the number one state for military employment. Established in 2015, NC4ME leverages existing workforce development resources and technology, including the Department of Commerce and Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, to implement an employer-centric strategy that:
- Educates NC business leaders on the value of hiring a military workforce,
- Shows small businesses and human resource professionals how to hire military personnel, and
- Connects military talent to open jobs, education, and training opportunities in North Carolina.
NC4ME also serves as an umbrella for over 1,000 veteran-focused organizations in NC, assisting veterans with navigating resources while simultaneously assisting employers in hiring them.
Source: UNC-TV. Aerial training simulation at Craven Community College satellite campus on MCAS Cherry Point.
Ray Staats, President of Craven Community College, says their focus on segments of the population that are unique to their community allowed the College to develop its veteran-focused programs. Although he acknowledges that some veteran students will move away once their service ends, his hope is that Craven County’s welcoming atmosphere and veteran-focused programming will encourage many to stay in the area, enhancing the local workforce and economy. Staats says that flexibility and a local focus will allow the College to continue serving this transitioning population.
Kimberly Williams of NC4ME says the state should keep transitioning service members in North Carolina because it is key to economic development in the state. She says veterans could fill important workforce gaps in North Carolina if they are able to market their skills to employers. Williams says despite some perceptions that service members are only trained for combat, “the reality is that [service members] are attorneys. They do logistics, statistics, accounting, food service, travel – the military is a business.” This makes their skills directly transferable to the civilian workforce, if they are connected with companies that need qualified employees. Through education, training, and an employer-focused network, Craven Community College, MCAS Cherry Point, and NC4ME are partnering to ensure that veterans are staying and thriving in North Carolina communities.