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For Maj. Chris Ewing, Army National Guardsman and brigade design engineer, state government is the place to be. The pace of work in Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development gives him the chance to shine.
“For an engineer, you are freer to take your time with design, to get it right, rather than being metered by the timeline and the cost of a project in the private sector,” he said. As a civil servant, “you can take the time the job needs to plan it adequately.”
That’s just one attraction of a job in the state workforce. Civil service employment also is typically more stable than private-sector employment, and it gives veterans a chance to continue their commitment to serving society. Perhaps most significantly: This is a job you can get.
In a competitive job market, virtually every state has some program to give veterans a leg up in the application process.
In Oklahoma, veterans get an automatic five points on selection tests, or 10 points if they have a disability rating of 30 percent or more.
New York gives the same five and 10, as well as an extra 2½ points on competitive promotional exams.
In Maryland, it’s 10 points for any veteran, plus two points for disabled veterans or former prisoners of war.
Maryland maintains a jobs page online, listing positions that might be especially suitable to veterans, with corrections, police and teachers topping the list. The state goes on to spell out its commitment in its Warrior to Worker Initiative.
“The State has an obligation to do everything in its power to promote veterans’ transition to civilian life through employment opportunities,” it reads in part.
In Louisiana, Peter Harris, the human resources consultant supervisor in the Department of State Civil Service, said his state is eager to bring in those who formerly served.
“They bring a certain skill set and a certain discipline. You’re going to get a person with a certain amount of structure, a certain amount of knowledge of the field they’re working in. It leaves a little less to chance,” he said.
Harris paints a picture of state work as being an ideal place for veterans to anchor their careers. “A lot of the jobs offer room to grow and room to learn. There are career progression groups, which allow you to move up to a certain level noncompetitively,” he said. “Say you are looking to get into business operations. We hire you as an HR analyst and you know that, within a year or two, you will have a chance to be promoted to the next higher level.”
Louisiana goes beyond points to sweeten the pot, exempting veterans from the testing that precedes employment. Rather than ask those in uniform to make their way to Baton Rouge for testing, the state waives the requirement for those discharged within the past year who served on active duty for at least 90 days.
Other states, likewise, are finding creative ways to help veterans make the leap into state government jobs.
In Oregon, the state legislature declared in 2011 that any veteran meeting the minimum qualifications for a public-sector job is guaranteed an interview.
“Because there are so many applicants, people tend to get screened out fairly quickly. This automatically puts the veteran into the face-to-face conversation with personnel,” said Gary Dominick, veterans program coordinator in the state’s employment department.
In California, incentives include a higher-than-usual points award: 10 for any veteran, 15 for disabled vets. That gives a big edge to those unfamiliar with the language of public service, said J.P. Tremblay, CalVet Deputy Secretary for Communications and Legislation.
“If they are coming out of military service, they might not catch all the bureaucratic-speak of state government, so they might only get 85 points. Now this brings them up to 100,” he said.
Veterans get another big break in California. Whereas ordinary applicants might come into government service at the entry level, veterans have the right to sit for promotional exams that would ordinarily be closed to newcomers, effectively giving them the chance to come into the job at a higher level.
For Ewing, one of the best things about being in state government is that his public-servant bosses have been sympathetic to his military obligations in a way he doubts would have been the case in the private sector.
“I came on here in 2008, and I knew I was about to start pre-deployment training for Iraq. I only worked here for about six months before I had to leave. In the first two years, I really only worked about six months,” he said.
Vacation time and sick leave continued to accrue, and he even got a 4 percent raise while overseas.
“I know a lot of private companies would have problems with that,” he said.