Labor pitches new Veterans.gov as easier path to employment

The Labor Department launched on Monday the new version of Veterans.gov, a “one-stop shop” for veterans seeking jobs and employers who want to hire them.

The new site more easily describes the path veterans can take to find a job or start a business, and it points them to resources from federal agencies and the public sector workforce that can help them in their search.

“Employment is a person to person conversation,” said Terry Gerton, deputy assistant secretary for policy within the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), in an interview with Federal News Radio. “No matter how many resources you put out online, at the end of the day, you have to talk to somebody to get a job. We wanted to consolidate these resources, but we also wanted to make sure that at every step of the way there was an option for either the job seeker or the employer to reach out and contact a person either in the public workforce system or here at the Department of Labor who can help them in their search.”

When users first enter the site, they have the option of finding resources that will help them “find a job,” “start your own business” or “hire a veteran.” They can also click on a map of the United States to explore opportunities in a specific location.

“We think people approach this question in one of two ways,” Gerton said. “Either, ‘What do I want to do?’ Or, ‘Where do I want to do it?'”

The new site is not to be confused with Vets.gov, which the Veterans Affairs Department is developing as the “front door” portal to roughly 1,000 different VA-hosted sites. The project is meant to serve as a “one-stop shop” for VA services, Tom Allin, chief veterans experience officer, said last September.

Labor has owned the Veterans.gov domain name since 2001, which, until recently, redirected visitors to the Veterans Employment and Training Service. As Federal News Radio reported last August, the departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs debated who should own the Veterans.gov domain.

But for now, the domain will belong to Labor, Gerton said.

“Perhaps over time there will be some merging of the two efforts, but right now, there’s so much work that the VA has going on in the Vets.gov space that we wanted to make sure that we didn’t interfere with their work that’s going on while we were still able to bring this employment feature to the forefront,” she said. “We’ll see how this will play out over time, but right now we think there’s space for both.”

As Gerton indicated, the VA is still building out pieces of Vets.gov. The top left corner of the site says, “This site is a work in progress. If you don’t find what you need, visit VA.gov.”

Labor is beginning to get the word out that its site is the destination to find information about veterans employment. Gerton said Veterans.gov will be a part of the Transition Assistance Program curriculum, the course, which the Labor Department facilitates, that military members take as they leave service and return to civilian life.

To learn specifically about the kinds of information veterans wanted, Labor held feedback sessions with federal agencies, employers, veterans service organizations and veterans themselves. Their input helped the Labor team refine the site’s navigation and overall design.

The department got help from its public affairs office, as well as the U.S. Digital Service, on the site’s development and design. DOL also hired a new strategic communications team with the VETS a year ago, Gerton said.

“We realized we really needed additional capacity to reach a broadly dispersed and very differentiated veterans population,” she said.

Throughout the course of the eight-month project, DOL also collaborated with a few specific agencies, including the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Homeland Security and Transportation, which have strong veterans hiring programs.

“We also worked very closely across the federal agencies to say, what is it you want to communicate to veterans?” Gerton said. “The Department of Transportation had a really robust site within their own DOT site, but again, veterans don’t even know about those kinds of opportunities, much less that they should check in with DOT.”

The conversations Gerton described show a growing trend across government, as agencies begin to rethink how they can provide better customer services to the public. It’s also a major goal for VA Secretary Bob McDonald, who promised to renew the department’s focus on customer service when he took office in 2014.

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