Just a few weeks after Joseph Ward joined the army he went through a 24 week cooking program that prepared him to cook gourmet meals for generals and fast options for soldiers on the go. Ward served in Iraq, cooking for soldiers and Iraqi civilians. After leaving the service, Ward came home to Central New York. He thought he could use his years of experience in the army to find a prep chef job, but so far he's been unable to find any job at all.
"There was a bagel shop in my area that needed an overnight baker or a regular baker and I was way overqualified for what they were asking for because it was only going to pay $7.50 an hour - but I needed a job. Still, I didn't get it," said Ward at his Liverpool home.
Ward is partially disabled and has occasional memory loss from his time in the army but says he is ready to bring to cooking skills to any employer that needs them. He isn't alone in his struggles. Nationally, the unemployment rate for veterans is over eleven percent - that's higher than the national unemployment rate.
Veterans advocates say many employers have trouble understanding how a veteran's military experience can translate to a civilian job. At the VA Medical Center in Syracuse, staff are working with veterans on better ways to describe the technology and duties they did for the military.
"A lot of them come back and speak very military-ese. So how can you take some of those skills and convert and present them to employers," said Bill Woods from the VA Medical Center.
Ward says the discipline and perseverance he learned in the Army would benefit anyone that eventually hires him but they are also helping him deal with the frustration as he continues to search.
"It's just a matter of finding it and it's a matter of patience and waiting. That's all you have to have," said Ward
Mike Haynie at Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management says veterans experience and training should make a perfect fit for the modern civilian workforce.
"It's certainly something a vet is going to bring to your organization - the ability to react well in the face of a changing environment and that's what contemporary businesses require as well," said Haynie
Haynie works with veterans at SU. He was just named to a national committee on veterans employment issues.
Haynie says that many employers have difficulty translating military skills into civilian workplaces and veterans need to find more universal ways to describe specific military duties and training.
Staff at the VA Medical Center in Syracuse are also working with veterans on better ways to describe their experience with employer-friendly language..
"They have served our country, they have served us. They have been well trained and well educated in the military and to have them come out and be any barriers for them is difficult," said Lauren Long from the VA Medical Center.