When Omar Abdrabboh earned his law degree, he never dreamed he would abandon his career in the legal field. But now, the Dearborn resident is dedicating his time to helping veterans find jobs.
Abdrabboh heads up Driving for America, a truck driving school and job placement agency with a focus on placing veterans into careers in the trucking industry.
It’s a path he didn’t know he wanted to take, but once he started learning more about the plight of U.S. veterans, his passion budded.
“We have problems with jobs in Michigan, but you don’t really think about veterans. They’re forgotten about,” Abdrabboh said from his office on the Dearborn-Detroit border. “They’re trying to make that transition to civilian life, so we’re going to get them CDL licenses and, more importantly, we’re going to get them jobs.”
National Recognition of Veteran Joblessness
Abdrabboh isn’t alone in his efforts—and it’s a good thing.
Unemployment rates for the nation’s 21.6 million men and women veterans is an issue many have taken notice of, locally and nationally.
President Barack Obama earlier this year signed into law the "VOW to Hire Heroes Act," which provides tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed and disabled veterans.
U.S. Congressman John Dingell (D-Dearborn)—also a veteran—cosponsored the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act of 2012, which aims to make it easier and faster for veterans who served as medics to earn certification as civilian Emergency Medical Technicians.
“Veterans continue to be unemployed at a higher rate than the rest of the population, and this is a serious national problem,” Dingell said at a hearing on the act held over the summer. “With over one million veterans expected to leave the military in the next five years, we need outside-of-the-box solutions to help them successfully reintegrate into society.”
The bill could be up for consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives this month, and is expected to receive bipartisan support.
And the cooperative efforts are making a dent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unemployment rates for all vets dropped from 7.7 to 6.6 percent from Aug. 2011 to one year later.
Still, for veterans who were on active duty since September 2001, joblessness rose from 9.8 to 10.9 percent during the same time period.
Dearborn Does Its Part
The city of Dearborn has been at the forefront of the effort to fight veteran joblessness.
Classes for Abdrabboh’s company, Driving for America, start Oct. 1. The company plans to sponsor 10 veterans and pay for their classes, he said.
“We look like the heroes, but we’re really not,” he said, adding that the trucking industry is aching for more qualified drivers with the proven reliability and dedication vets have. “There’s such a high demand for qualified drivers.”
Likewise, the Dearborn Police Department has found a win-win situation with its receipt of a $1.2 million Vets to Cops grant in June. The U.S. Department of Justice grant will pay for the hiring of veterans as officers, while the department will gain highly qualified men and women to fill vacancies on their force.
But perhaps the biggest showcase of Dearborn’s commitment to ending veteran joblessness than the hosting of the Hiring Our Heroes job fair in April.
A collaborative effort between the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the presenting U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the event brought thousands of job-hunting vets face-to-face with nearly 150 companies eager to hire.
“Dearborn is referred to as the benchmark for Hiring Our Heroes,” said Dearborn Chamber President Jennifer Giering. “What differentiated this event from others was the passion we had for it in the chamber. We were everywhere on this thing and we gave it hell.”
Giering began exploring veterans’ issues as a personal and professional area of interest after reconnecting with a friend serving in the National Guard.
“There is a huge influx of men and women returning from tours looking for meaningful employment,” she said. “They put their careers on hold to go serve our country. Now they’re fighting for jobs.”
Giering said the Dearborn chamber hopes to bring the job fair back to Dearborn in 2013. But in the meantime, they’re helping local companies to not just hire vets, but to have policies in place to best serve veteran employees.
“We’re trying to get (veterans) a seat at the table,” she said. “We’re getting them up to speed, getting their resumes in order … and at the same time, we’re trying to educate companies.”
But Dearborn’s efforts are just one piece of an effort that includes individuals companies, colleges, nonprofits and legislators stepping up to help.
“Everyone’s kind of getting in the game and doing their part,” she said. “There are companies that say, 'If I have my pick, I want to hire a vet—no question.'”
Abdrabboh agrees—both because veterans are known to be highly skilled, dedicated employees, and because it’s the right thing to do.
“What an honorable and noble thing this is to do,” he said, “to help people who served our country.”