Walter Schmidt was among a crowd of about 150 which packed the Hofstra Student Center Theater on March 13 for the Suburban Millennial Jobs Conference run by the university’s National Center for Suburban Studies. Schmidt, now confined to a wheelchair, did three tours in Vietnam from 1967-69 and is a veterans services officer for the Town of Oyster Bay.
“One of the biggest problems for veterans advocates,” he said, “is trying to reach younger vets. Younger vets are probably working two jobs, their spouse is working two jobs, and they don’t have the time to devote to a veterans service agency…We care because while the VA and many local organizations have benefits, the younger vets don’t know about them, and they are never well publicized.”
Schmidt said Oyster Bay Town (516-797-7875) has a Department of Labor employee working one or two days a week to connect veterans to unemployment benefits, schooling, training and job opportunities. According to conference panelists, Long Island’s job cluster with the best potential for growth is health care, followed by technology. “We need to focus on becoming the best at something,” Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos said, “and our recommendation is to be the best at health care. We have some of the best universities and some of the best hospitals. We need to bring them together.”
Millennials are the generation born between 1980 and 2000. Joan Kuhl, head of a Manhattan speaking and consulting firm called Why Millennials Matter, said, “Millennials are the largest, most-diverse, best educated generation in history. Millennials are going to change the world.” She said 43 percent are non-white, one in five are college graduates and they want to make a difference in the world. But she said Millennials are “behind on skill development and experience.” She added that tech-savvy Millennials value results over job tenure and want advancement faster than other generations. “Get them involved in your boards,” she urged employers. “Consider forming junior boards.”
Young people are fleeing Long Island in droves, panelists said, because of high taxes, lack of affordable housing and poor transportation infrastructure. Former Newsday reporter Errol Cockfield, now in public relations, said, “Affordability is a big part of it [the brain drain]. Government and private industry developers need to get together and think about these things seriously.”
Steven Kreiger, of Engel Burman Group, said his Garden City construction firm owns 12 Bristal assisted living facilities, 10 on Long Island, and plans to apply to Hempstead Town soon to build 200 units of affordable housing for Millennials in Uniondale. “The first question we’re asked,” he said of community meetings, “is how many kids are you going to bring to the schools? We want to build non age-restricted housing but we’re stymied from the beginning. It’s been difficult to build anything other than senior housing.”
Onika Sheppard, of Local 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers East (212-582-1890), said, “We do understand that health care jobs are growing, but its in ambulatory care and clinics.” She said it’s important for those jobs to offer decent wages so younger people can support their families. Dr. Brad Sherman, medical director at North Shore-LIJ’s Glen Cove Hospital, joked that “It is difficult to get Millennials to apply for low level positions because they want to be the CEO…But we need Millennials to help us with technological innovations… I don’t see a lot of Millennials [applying for jobs], I see older people looking to move into the area.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who served with the army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, was the conference’s keynote speaker. He praised Millennials’ “losing-is-not-an-option” mentality and said he supports more training for “people who want to enter the high-tech industry.” Zeldin said he encourages Millennials to “go all in, to strive for success” and added, “you have a partner in the fight.”
Zeldin also said “We need more affordable housing and a lower cost of living.” Zeldin serves on the Veterans’ Affairs committee and said he wants to improve job options for veterans. “They’re coming home with the mental wounds of war,” he said, “coming home without shoes on their feet, without food to eat or a roof over their heads. I get passionate when I talk about veterans.”
Ryan Stanton, representing the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, in Hauppauge (631-348-1170) said “unions invest in members success” by providing apprenticeship and training. But Michael Todisco, Metro/Long Island regional vice president of the non-union Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. in Ronkonkoma (631-738-2086), said his group also would be happy to connect veterans to job opportunities.
Several panelists recommended that young people take courses targeted to specific jobs in an industry And they recommended that Millennials become more involved in the political process, especially in lobbying for affordable housing. Suffolk County Legislator William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said of veterans, “They have a tremendous amount of training and discipline. I don’t see a specific sector where they would not fit in. But there needs to be more programs to promote [opportunities].”
Stanton said of veterans, “The tech industry could be phenomenal for them , the construction industry. We trust them to fight for our country. Why shouldn’t we trust them to rebuild our downtowns.?” Jack Schnirman, Long Beach City Manager, said, “veterans know how to get things done.”
United Veterans Beacon House partners with the United Way in a program called VetsBuild (631-940-3773), which teaches young veterans skills that are useful in green technology jobs. Thanks to a grant from the New York Department of State, at no cost, veterans are trained for opportunities in energy efficiency, home restoration, weatherization and Energy-Star construction at a model Cape Cod- style house contained within a Deer Park warehouse outfitted with the latest technology and equipment. The program had trained about 140 veterans by the end of 2014.