Lawmakers: Veterans’ job portal half-baked

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The Department of Veterans Affairs may have jumped the gun launching an online job board last year, leading to poor functionality and low take-up by job hunters and potential employers, lawmakers and advocates said Tuesday.

Members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity expressed their concerns during a hearing considering the VA’s Veterans Employment Center, a platform located in VA’s e-Benefits website, which was stood up with the aim of being the sole federal portal for veterans seeking post-active duty employment.

“While I understand that the VEC was created on a shoe-string budget and is still being improved, I am concerned that VA may have been too hasty in promoting its use and may be inflating its true value as well as its functionality,” said Chairman Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, in his opening statement.

William Hubbard, the vice president of government affairs for the Student Veterans of America and a witness before the subcommittee, said that despite the positive efforts of the VA to consolidate veterans employment assistance into one platform and the potential it holds, the system is falling flat in its implementation. Just 22,500 profiles exist on the platform currently, Hubbard’s prepared remarks say, far less than 1 percent of the veteran population at large.

That, along with a difficulty of use, Hubbard said, makes the VEC an unattractive system for employers to use to recruit veterans.

“We hope to see user adoption addressed in the coming months; the number of veteran profiles on the site is the true incentive for employer participation in the platform,” he said. “Similarly, we believe employer participation is hampered by the platform’s interface, which is not as intuitive and user-friendly as we hope it will be in the future.”

Curtis Coy, VA deputy under secretary for economic opportunity in the Veterans Benefits Administration, came to the hearing touting VEC’s 1.5 million page views from 135,000 visitors each month. Several lawmakers cited rumors they’d heard that those numbers are inflated by contractors paid to log in each day, but Coy said there was no evidence of that.

Regardless, Hubbard said the VA needs to develop better data tracking for evidence that the VEC is working in connecting veteran job-seekers with potential employers.

“It is clear that data tracking and the outcomes of the VEC are not presently available. Since the tool is meant to connect veterans with employers, we would hope to see VA address outcome tracking related to hires resulting from connections through the platform, as well as employee retention data.”

Other tools on the VEC, like the skills translator feature that helps vets build their resumes in an automized way, are half-baked, witnesses said.

Davy Leghorn, an assistant director at the American Legion, said the skills translator was “practically useless” because it creates a resume “that quickly finds it way into the trashcan.”

Hubbard and Leghorn supported Illinois Republican Rep. Mike Bost’s assertion that “the VEC was rolled out too fast.”

“It’s a great idea,” Bost said, but it just wasn’t ready. “We want to move forward into the future, but quite often we’re not necessarily ready to do everything we’re supposed to do.”

Coy didn’t really disagree with him.

“We certainly probably would’ve liked in 20/20 hindsight to have resolve several things before we rolled it out,” he said. “But we did roll it out.”

However, Coy said that VEC — and particularly the skills translator tool — have an upgrade in the works.

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11 this year, the VA Digital Service team will roll out improved VEC functionality as part of the new Vets.gov project. Despite a less-than-stellar launch for the VEC, Coy said this team’s agility and iterative development process can help revitalize the stale platform.

He added: “What this allows us to do … is be very agile and very mobile, be able to change things pretty much on the fly.”

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