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Unemployed sailors on the job hunt

The Navy laid off 15 enlisted Naval Base  Kitsap sailors the first week of December.

As they join 3,000 fellow sailors across the county in the first of two down sizings, the Naval Base Kitsap sailors scramble to find civilian jobs in the worst economy in 80 years, Kitsap WorkSource gives them a leg up.

The final phase of the Enlisted Retention Board, which evaluated sailors in overmanned rates from E4 to E8, closed on Nov. 29.

The command at Naval Base Kitsap notified everyone on the "not selected for retention" list and informed them of their options, according to Sheila Murray, public affairs officer for Navy Region Northwest.

The deadline for transfers into other Navy ratings has also closed which means that sailors will join the 9 percent of the American workforce in the unemployment line.

Though the Navy is offering some help such as extended health care coverage for six months, NEX and commissary privileges for two years, and paid time off for job and house hunting, finding a new career is still up to the sailors.

"These guys are going through a lot. They may have heard about [Kitsap WorkSource] in their TAP programs, but everyone agrees they get so much information there, they are usually overwhelmed. So we're personally inviting them to come in and talk," said Margaret Hess, director for WorkSource of Kitsap County. Hess does that by sending applications to all those who have recently filed unemployment claims with the military.

Representatives are also making calls to people who have been profiled as having difficulty translating their military experience into a civilian job title.

"It's true that the Navy has more transferable positions, especially with the shipyard here. A Navy mechanic or supply officer may be able to translate his work skills more easily than, say, an Army infantryman. Some fields are really difficult to translate," said Hess.

Qualities like having a security clearance or experience with specific technology make ex-Navy men and women particularly attractive to federal contractors, explained Hess.

In fact, some contractors prefer that nothing be translated or "civilianized," rather that Navy applicants present themselves through military terminology, according to the director. However, the majority of human resources departments still expect the right key words when hiring.

Some sailors don't even know what type into the job title search box, according to WorkSource.

"It's the biggest challenge, knowing their audience and being able to create the match in writing," explained Hess of why some ex-military personnel have such a hard time finding jobs.

WorkSource encourages all sailors to visit oNetonline.org, a website that helps them find the right language to start searching.

For example, a machinists mate, one overmanned rating, might visit the website and go to the "crosswalks," select his branch of service and military rate. The search will return conversions like "maintenance electrician," "process technician," and "building maintenance mechanic" with links to job listings in those categories. This takes the guess work out of what he might be qualified for. It also shows him the language that many of the human resource departments are using when writing the job listing.

"Employers are using this tool when they write their own job descriptions, especially those that don't have huge HR offices. They are drawing from oNet codes and descriptions to fill jobs. If you're using the same codes, then you're speaking the same language," said Hess.

Employment in Kitsap County is "fairly flat" according to the director. The center was put through its paces in 2008 when the unemployment rate rose dramatically, but since then it reports that the situation is recovering at a snail's pace.

"While the recession is ending, the recovery for job seekers is very slow. Most of the jobs we see coming back are the occupations we lost the most, the lower paying jobs. Unemployment hasn't gone up in the last year, but I guess the bad news is it hasn't gone down either," said Hess.

The center reports that about 50 percent of applicants that come in for an initial counseling session come back for additional help with their job search.

"The local military are job ready, but they need coaching," said Hess.

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