Thank you, Dr. (Becky) Takeda-Tinker. Institutions like CSU-Global are on the cutting edge of higher education, and your commitment to providing greater access to students, and particularly to service members and veterans, is inspirational.
I'm honored to be here to help kick off your program. I want to thank Verna Jones for your dedicated leadership of the American Legion on behalf of our nation's veterans.
The American Legion has a long and steady tradition of service to our nation and to our veterans. I'm grateful to you for convening this forum -- we owe it to our veterans to break down the barriers to employment that they too often face as they reintegrate into civilian life, so thank you for facilitating this important conversation.
I come from a family where serving our nation's veterans is a way of life. My father and uncles served in the military during World War II. My father went on to become a VA physician in Buffalo, NY, as did my brother and, most recently, my nephew. For my father, treating veterans was a way to give back to this country, and he instilled in me and my siblings a great respect for those who answer the call to protect our nation.
In my previous role as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, it was my honor to have the responsibility of enforcing a number of critical laws that protect those who dedicated so much to serving our country. We helped secure more than $125 million in monetary relief for servicemembers who were victims of improper foreclosures.
We obtained the largest-ever recovery under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) to protect the employment rights of servicemembers returning from active duty. We aggressively enforced laws that protect the voting rights of servicemembers and their families overseas.
And now, at the Department of Labor, I continue to have the privilege of serving those who have served through out programs that aim to help veterans access training and employment opportunities.
It's a great time to be having a conversation about jobs and hiring in America. We've made a remarkable turnaround since the depths of the Great Recession. We've seen 61 consecutive months of private sector job growth -- the longest streak on record -- with more than 12 million new jobs created.
Consumer confidence is higher than it's been since 2007. Exports are at an all-time high. The economic news is unquestionably good. But the President also knows that, despite the great progress we've made, his job isn't finished until everyone in America reaps the benefits of this growing economy.
That's why he's committed in his last two years to taking steps to strengthen the middle class and make sure the prosperity being created is broadly shared. Those steps include proposing free community college for everyone willing to work for it; pushing to expand access to paid leave for America's workers; proposing tax relief for middles class families.
And they include making strong investments in our human infrastructure -- America's working people. I like to think of this as our Eisenhower moment. Just as President Eisenhower revolutionized our physical infrastructure by building the interstate highway system, today we're building a skills superhighway with on ramps and off ramps, with dedicated lanes for all kinds of workers and job-seekers, including our veterans.
To compete in the global economy of the 21st century, we need a steady pipeline of skilled workers. Employers are ready to grow, but they need workers that have 21st century skills. And people are ready to work, but don't have the skills they need to land a good job.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, signed into law last summer, aims to modernize our nation's workforce development efforts to make sure they're driven by industry demand more than ever. And with those reforms in place, we're making key investments in proven skills and training models. In 2014 alone, DOL made more than $1 billion in grants available for job-driven training programs to help workers acquire the skills necessary to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow. We are "all in" on apprenticeship -- making available $100 million for the American Apprenticeship Grant competition -- to transform apprenticeship for the 21st century.
The ultimate goal is to make sure our workforce system allows every American access to the skills and opportunities necessary to land a good, middle class job, no matter which path they choose.
DOL VETS services
And that includes the men and women who have worn our nation's uniform. Our veterans are an incredible asset to our nation and to our economy. That's why employers want to hire them -- they make great employees. I speak from experience -- in the last full fiscal year, 33 percent of the new employees we hired at the Department of Labor were veterans.
Other employers understand the value of hiring veterans as well. That's why the unemployment rate for veterans is even lower than the nation as a whole. In 2014, the unemployment rate for veterans fell to 5.3 percent, down from its peak during the recovery of 8.7 percent.
For Gulf War Era II Veterans -- those who have served since September 2011, the unemployment rate remains higher than the national rate, but declined considerably in 2014.
I often say that the Department of Labor is like Match.com -- we connect employers with read-to-work Americans. And of the nearly 17 million Americans who access our workforce services each year through nearly 2,500 American Job Centers, about 1.2 million are veterans.
Through DOL's Veterans Employment and Training Service, Veterans receive priority service at the American Job Centers. They work one on one with dedicated counselors to improve their resumes, learn tips on networking and interviewing, access training opportunities and find jobs.
The counselors also provide intensive services to help veterans overcome some significant barriers, like disability related to their service, homelessness, or long-term unemployment.
And in fact, our Chief Evaluation Office recently conducted a study to see how well these services are working, and found that of all the customers served by the nation's workforce programs, veterans who access these services have the highest employment retention rates and the highest average earnings.
Behind those numbers are people like Army veteran Scott Butcher. After nearly eight years in the Army, which included three tours in Iraq, Scott found himself in 2013 unemployed and living with his parents. He was married with a first child on the way.
So five months after his discharge, he went to an American Job Center in Cincinnati, where he was connected with a counselor. His counselor helped him fix up his resume, worked with him on interviewing skills, helped him find job opportunities. Less than two months later, he landed a job as a sales associate with Total Quality Logistics, and he's still working there today.
The Veterans Employment and Training Service also works closely with the VA and Department of Defense on the Transition Assistance Program. Through TAP, we use our expertise in employment services to provide a comprehensive three-day employment workshop at U.S. military installations around the world. Last year, we conducted more than 6,600 employment workshops for more than 207,000 participants at 206 military installations worldwide.
Using feedback received from TAP workshop participants, we recently completed a significant redesign of the workshops, making them more engaging and providing information more tailored to the unique challenges facing returning service members. The redesigned workshop has been well received -- of more than 11,000 participants who responded to a recent survey, 91 percent reported that they would use what they had learned in their own transition planning, and 89 percent said the workshop enhanced their confidence in planning for their transition to civilian life, thanks to the American Legion and so many others who have helped us improve.
These services are as critical now as they've ever been. The Department of Defense estimates that approximately 250,000 service members will leave the military each year over the next several years. We know that many of them have a difficult road ahead, that returning to civilian life can be a challenging transition. We know that many will struggle to find a job worthy of their unique talents.
That's why the Administration is committed to helping veterans and their families make that transition. The Joining Forces initiative, led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, has worked tirelessly to support this community though wellness, education, and employment opportunities. Joining Forces has helped businesses hire and train 540,000 veterans and military spouses since its inception in 2011.
Last February at the Labor Department, more than one hundred American construction companies came together to announce they plan to hire more than 100,000 veterans within the next five years. Last year, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden announced the launch of the Veterans Employment Center, an integrated, inter-agency online tool connecting veterans, separating service members and the spouses with employers. The President also remains committed to his goal of ending veteran homelessness, and we know that steady employment is a fundamental component of those efforts.
The President's proposed budget includes a number of investments that would help veterans overcome transition challenges. Among those are a $500 million increase for employment services to ensure that all displaced workers, including veterans, get the in-person assistance they need to find a new job or access training.
Veterans would also benefit from the proposed investments to expand
apprenticeships. The Veterans Employment and Training Service works closely with our Office of Apprenticeship to link separating service members with apprenticeship opportunities. And these opportunities are rapidly expanding. The President -- calling apprenticeships the gold standard of workforce training -- has set a goal to double the number of apprenticeships in the United States.
The learn-while-you-earn model allows workers to gain valuable on the job training and access career opportunities that allow them to punch their ticket to the middle class. As these opportunities expand, we're committed making sure veterans can access them.
I also want to mention briefly one other area of our work related to veterans' employment -- that's the enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. USERRA protects the civilian employment rights of the men and women who serve our country, and DOL takes its enforcement responsibilities under USERRA very seriously. Last year, GAO reported that, in a three-year demonstration pilot on the handling of USERRA cases, DOL has the highest ranking.
Skills Translation and Transition
Now, one of the key challenges to helping connect employers and veterans is making sure they know how military skills translate to the civilian workforce. Veterans need to know what kinds of jobs are out there that will allow them to use the invaluable skills they acquired during their service, and employers need to understand how those skills can translate into their workplaces.
So, for example, if you were a radio operator in the Army, you probably have skills that would prove valuable to employers in an array of occupations in the telecommunications industry. But employers and vets often don't know how to make the connection.
That's why the VOW Act, enacted in 2011, required us to commission a study to look at how specific military occupations translate to civilian occupations that require similar skills. The final report was submitted to Congress late last year, and it identifies matches between 68 military and civilian occupations, which include the top ten occupations in each major service branch.
The study has enabled us to create an enhanced crosswalk that increases the matches for those military occupations from 100 to 962 civilian occupations. With our federal partners, we've integrated the enhanced crosswalk into the updated TAP curriculum, as well as our electronic tools.
Of course, there are also barriers related to licensing and credentialing. You could have a veteran who served as a combat medic return home to the United States and find himself forced to spend 12 months in a training program to work as an EMT. We risk letting that veteran's training, experience and valuable knowledge go to waste by forcing him to jump through hoops. Instead, we should be putting him on the fast track to a health care job.
And that's why we're here today. It's incumbent upon us, as a nation, to do better when it comes to helping our veterans get the credentials they need -- and in many cases have really already earned -- in order to perform civilian jobs.
As you all may know, state governments have the ultimate authority for regulating entry into most licensed occupations and determining whether alternative pathways, such as military experience, meet the requirements of the law.
Unfortunately, veterans and other job seekers often face obstacles, like unnecessary and redundant training or high fees, in their efforts to get licensed for jobs they already have the skills to do.
A number of states have taken action in recent years to identify and address unnecessary licensing barriers. Such steps are critical to ensuring economic opportunity and geographic mobility for service members, veterans and their families. In order to encourage even more states to follow suit, the President's budget proposes a $15 million increase to help states in those efforts.
At DOL and at other federal agencies, meanwhile, we're also committed to helping states take action. We have conducted a two-year demonstration project in partnership with the National Governors' Association Center for Best Practices, which identified opportunities for veterans' certification and licensing in several civilian occupations that were matched to three military occupations with high numbers of enlisted service members: medics, military police, and truck drivers.
Together with a panel of experts, including the American Legion, the GA selected six states: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, Virginia, and Wisconsin, to implement a State Blueprint for Accelerating Veterans' Licensing and Certification that will serve as model for other states.
...The men and women who wear or have worn our nation's uniform, and their families, have made great sacrifices to keep us safe. They deserve to know that when they leave the service, they will be rewarded for those sacrifices with the opportunity to get a good job and punch their ticket to the middle class.
We owe it to them to make sure that they can seamlessly return to civilian life without facing unnecessary challenges. We owe it to them to make sure they can get good jobs, earning family-sustaining wages, and using the valuable skills they have acquired during their service.
And quite frankly, we can't afford anything less. America works best when we field a full team, and veterans are among our most valuable players. We need them in the game. So thank you all for participating in this important conversation, and for committing to making sure we don't let our veterans fall through the cracks.