Chicago Man Finds Success through State Program to Help Veterans Transition to Civilian Life
SPRINGFIELD – Martin Gerk joined the Navy in 1999 where he served in active duty until December 2007. In the Navy, he worked in foodservice. Martin thought finding work after active service would be easy as a vet, but soon discovered the economic recession and the competition of an international labor force would make finding work in civilian life difficult.
After being out of work for two years, Martin found work at a leading foodservice company in Chicago that staffs many of the city’s corporate dining rooms and cafeterias with assistance from state-supported programs such as the Easter Seals Veterans Outreach Project, disabilityworks, the state’s workforce development network and other vets. Martin recently achieved his first anniversary with his employer, who continues to rely on his flexibility.
“It was pretty discouraging returning home and finding myself unemployed and unable to provide for my family. By working with the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center and disabilityworks, along with the state resources I accessed online, I was able to get additional training and master skills that were critical to me finding full-time employment,” said Gerk.
Martin is one of hundreds of veterans that have returned home and received assistance finding jobs and upgrading their skills through workforce programs sponsored by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Employment and Training and funded by federal Workforce Investment Act dollars. DCEO Director Warren Ribley today highlighted these programs and the contributions of the more than 338,000 veterans to the Illinois workforce.
“These men and women gave selflessly of themselves to serve our country,” said Director Ribley. “Unfortunately, far too many veterans return home to barriers in finding employment and other opportunities. Through the state’s workforce network, we’re helping to ensure these individuals can make a smooth transition into civilian life and begin to return to a sense of normalcy.”
In 2009, DCEO initiated collaboration between Easter Seals and disabilityworks – a nationally recognized effort geared toward enhancing employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities – to help returning veterans and their families, and the employers who are interested in hiring veterans. Operation Employ Veterans was developed to enhance the services available at the local level and help fill the gaps in the veterans' services delivery system statewide. DCEO provided a $500,000 grant for the program.
Since the start of Operation Employ Veterans:
• Nearly 300 veterans with and without disabilities and their families obtained employment or received job readiness and Illinois workNet training services.
• 856 veterans with and without disabilities and their families received reintegration support to connect them to the most appropriate resources based on their needs;
• 242 of these family units received more intense follow-up services, according to their needs
Operation Employ Veterans (OEV) also offers a training program that focuses on awareness-building among human resource directors, recruiters, managers and others involved in hiring decisions. The OEV program contains elements that tackle the false perceptions about veterans in the workplace, and detail the many unique benefits of employing veterans based on their military training and service. This training is vital because the majority of personnel engaged in the hiring process lack experience with the military and veterans, often have limited knowledge and understanding of veterans, and frequently express erroneous perceptions about the background and training of a veteran.
DCEO’s Office of Employment and Training provides job placement, workforce training and support services to adult, youth and dislocated Illinoisans under the federal Workforce Investment Act. For more information on the state’s workforce programs, visit www.illinoisworknet.net. For more information on services available to veterans, visit the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs at http://www2.illinois.gov/veterans.