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Veteran-owned Connecticut businesses express disconnect between job opportunities for veterans, hiring

Hartford — Stephen Gifford, an Army veteran who is the recent owner of Hartford Wire Works, explained it this way: At the executive-level, corporations will make commitments to hire veterans, but those aren't the same people who are reviewing resumes.    

The people reviewing the hundreds of resumes that come in for a given job are either "the 24-year-old new kid" or a contractor, according to Gifford, who worked in human resources before becoming a business owner.

"It's not that they don't want to hire veterans," he said. "It's that they've got 200 resumes there, and so they can probably find the person whose got the exact same job title as the one you're trying to fill. They also don't have enough juice in the organization to go to their boss and say, 'We're looking for a shift supervisor, this person was a squad leader, they can probably do the same thing.'"

That's where the disconnect lies, according to Gifford, between saying that hiring veterans is a goal and executing that goal.

The general sentiment in a room full of veterans, business-owning veterans and government officials in Hartford Thursday was agreement with the idea of a disconnect in the process that is keeping some veterans from getting jobs.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., convened Thursday's roundtable to hear ideas for how to expand veteran hiring and what actions Congress can take to support it.

In the U.S., one out of every 10 small businesses is veteran-owned, according to Blumenthal. But he also said that half of all post-9-11 veterans will be unemployed for a significant period of time.

Blumenthal drew attention to the recent passage of the VOW to Hire Heroes Extension Act of 2015, which he reintroduced earlier this year.

The act renews the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which expired in 2014, available to employers who hire unemployed or disabled veterans, and reauthorizes the tax credits through 2019.

"It's a beginning," Blumenthal said.

Business-owning veterans are an "untapped constituency" that aren't being paid attention to, said Michael Zacchea, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and program manager for the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at the University of Connecticut.

Zacchea, Blumenthal announced Wednesday, will be the senator's guest at President Barack Obama's State of the Union address next week.

Attendees expressed a range of ideas including: reimbursing companies for training veterans; a diversionary and rehabilitation program for veterans with felonies; mentoring for veterans who are new business owners; and helping veteran-owned businesses navigate the government contracting process.

In regard to the latter issue, attendees were pointed to the Connecticut Procurement Technical Assistance Program, a free service to assist business owners in the state interested in selling their goods or services to all levels of government.

One point mentioned several times was the large number of manufacturing jobs in the state, given its strong defense industry, and the funding available to train workers for jobs in the manufacturing sector. 

One veteran pointed out, however, that many veterans might not want that type of job and suggested funding be available for training programs for other than manufacturing.

State officials have been working to build a database of veteran-owned businesses in Connecticut that now features more than 700 businesses.

The idea is that the database will make it easier for the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and other federal and state agencies to inform them about resources that might benefit them.

Those who would like to register on the database can do so at https://cerc.formstack.com/forms/vet_biz.

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: @JuliaSBergman

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