Veterans, Werner Benefit from Program

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By Erin Golden

Talk to people in just about any department at Werner Enterprises, and there's a good chance you'll find a military veteran.

The Sarpy County-based trucking giant has 32 employees who are currently deployed. Plenty of other employees are veterans recently returned from serving in the Middle East. And the company is always looking to hire more.

It's one of only a handful of trucking firms that runs an apprenticeship program that allows participants to get GI Bill funding on the way to a driving certificate — and potential long-term employment with the company. Werner executives say the Operation: Freedom program serves two equally important purposes: It helps get veterans into the workforce and provides a pool of skilled new employees for a company always looking for good help.

"We've got 7,300 trucks going down the road, so there's always an interest in finding enough qualified drivers," said John Frey, Werner's vice president for driver school relations. "And the military provides a very good basis."

It's the kind of effort leaders in Washington, D.C., are hoping will become common at more workplaces.

In his Veterans Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery, President Obama made note of efforts he's backing to get more veterans to work. He's directed federal agencies to hire more veterans, and they've hired more than 120,000. He's called for businesses to hire 100,000 veterans who have served in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, along with their spouses, over the next few years.

In addition, the administration supports a Returning Heroes Tax Credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans, and a separate tax credit that would boost help for firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities. The measure cleared the U.S. Senate this week.

Unemployment levels among veterans — particularly those who have served in recent conflicts — are higher than those for the civilian population. In October, when the overall unemployment rate was 9 percent, the rate for veterans ages 18 to 24 was 30 percent and the rate for non-veterans in that age group was 15 percent.

The Werner program got its start in 2006, after the company began talking to the U.S. Department of Labor... Continue reading...