Former Airman Barbara Neiswanger has landed in a unique situation. As a military veteran, the Warren woman knows firsthand how difficult it is to adjust to life as a civilian employee, including doing basic things such as writing a resume and finding oneself in front of a potential employer for a job interview.
Now a human resources generalist at Things Remembered Fulfillment Center in North Jackson, Neiswanger is charged with helping to hire hundreds of employees, some of them veterans, each year for seasonal jobs that can turn into full-time permanent positions.
''We are affirmative action, and we do look for veterans to place here,'' Neiswanger said last week as she sat in the company's conference room. ''When I look at a veteran, I can identify especially with the hard work.''
Tribune Chronicle / Brenda J. Linert
Recent hire Neiswanger stands inside the conference room at Things Remembered Fulfillment Center in North Jackson.
Neiswanger, 32, worked as an air traffic controller during her time on active duty, mostly spent in North Dakota. She said she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force right after high school in Wisconsin largely to avoid college and for an opportunity to travel.
After finishing her service in 2001, she said she spent many years mostly as a stay-at-home mom and operating in-home businesses before she decided it was time to go to work outside the home.
Like many veterans, she said she knew it would be a challenge to adjust to a civilian work force.
Veterans and jobs
U.S. unemployment rates for October 2012:
Non-veterans, age 18 and older: 7.4%
All veterans, age 18 and older: 6.3%
Gulf-War era II veterans: 10%
Gulf-War era I veterans: 5.2%
Female non-veterans, age 18+: 7.4%
All female veterans, age 18+: 9.5%
Female Gulf-War era II veterans: 15.5%
Female Gulf-War era I veterans: 8.3%
Male non-veterans, age 18+: 7.5%
All male veterans, age 18+: 5.9%
Male Gulf-War era II veterans: 9.2%
Male Gulf-War era I veterans: 4.7%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
''It's an entire change of lifestyle. If you are active duty, you are going from that family on the base. You are kind of enclosed in that family, and when you step outside that, it's like a whole different world. It's almost like you don't know how to function.''
Despite the challenges, Neiswanger, calling herself a "go-getter," was not deterred. She said she was offered a minimum wage job, but knew the pay would not be enough to offset the cost of putting her children in daycare. Her husband, Tom, also serving in the U.S. Air Force, suggested she look into educational programs offered through Veterans Affairs.
Several years later, she was earning her bachelor's degree in human resources with a minor in economics from Youngstown State University.
She received a lot of guidance and support from Veterans Affairs, and while she says she never wanted to be a person to feel entitled to government-funded education, she is grateful for it beyond words.
The success story, however, is not always the norm.
Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in Columbus, said veteran struggles to enter the civilian work force are not unusual.
Statistics show that more than 250,000 service members transition out of the military each year. In 2011, the average unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans aged 18 to 24 was 29.1 percent, and the unemployment rate for all veterans was 8.3 percent.
Employment figures released last month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics weren't quite as alarming, but did show a definite drop in employment for veterans, especially female vets like Neiswanger.
The unemployment rate for women veterans last month was reported at 9.5 percent, compared to 7.4 percent for women non-veterans. Gulf War II-era veterans were particularly hard hit. Those statistics showed 15.5 percent of women veterans were unemployed and 9.2 percent of men veterans were unemployed for an average Gulf War II-era veteran unemployment rate of 10 percent.
''They may have never had to put together a resume for a civilian job. They may not have had to interview for a civilian job,'' Johnson pointed out.
Neiswanger agreed with that assessment.
''Even when I get people in here, they have never filled out an application,'' she said. ''It's not that they are incompetent. They just have never had to do it. It's like you are starting your entire life over."
Other obstacles can include things like gaps on a resume and translating military job descriptions and terminology to civilian work force descriptions.
But programs through agencies and organizations like Veterans Affairs, ODJFS or even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are helping to curb these barriers.
The ODJFS can help, for example, with on-the-job training offering civilian employers financial help in paying initial salaries while veterans learn the job.
''This person may not be absolutely perfect, but they have a good attitude, good work ethic, so why don't you let us cover the costs of their salary while you train them to do the job you want," Johnson said. Other incentives are also available from the state including things like tax credits for hiring vets.
''We work tirelessly with employers to help them make accommodations for vets,'' Johnson said.
In the Youngstown region, which covers several eastern Ohio counties including Trumbull, Mahoning, Ashtabula, Geauga, Portage and eight others, 174 veterans entered an ODJFS intensive job assistance program between April and June. From the program during that time frame, 118 vets entered employment or saw a wage increase.
Other organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also have jumped on board to help veterans find gainful civilian employment.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Chamber Foundation in March 2011 launched Hiring Our Heroes, a nationwide initiative to help veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment and to create a movement across America. Last year ''Hiring Our Heroes'' hosted more than 355 hiring fairs nationwide leading to the hiring of more than 10,400 veterans. More hiring fairs are scheduled this year including at least two in Ohio in coming months.
Neiswanger said she loves her job and hopes to grow in knowledge with the company.
''I like the idea of being an advocate for both the employee and the employer,'' she said. ''I would like to stay here for a long time.''