CINCINNATI — When he awoke every morning in Afghanistan, James Giuffre never wondered if his job would make a difference in someone's life that day.
But coming home was a different story. Once he left behind the daily, life-and-death challenges of Army life in a war zone, he struggled to find a job that suited him in the civilian world.
"I wanted to feel significant," said Giuffre, of Cincinnati. "I was lost."
He's hoping that will change after his graduation Thursday from a pilot program for unemployed veterans at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. He was among 11 veterans to earn a certificate from "Get Skills to Work," which its founders hope will spread across the country and help as many as 100,000 military vets find work.
The program — backed by General Electric, Alcoa, Boeing and Lockheed Martin — is taking on one of the most vexing problems returning veterans face: an unemployment rate that's significantly higher than the national average.
Although unemployment for veterans has fallen from 12.1 percent to 9.9 percent in the past year, it still outpaces the country's overall rate of 7.7 percent.
"The problem we have today is many of our vets were overseeing millions of dollars in equipment and supervising hundreds of people, and now they can't find jobs," said Darrell Smith, manager of veteran student affairs at Cincinnati State.
Smith said "Get Skills to Work" aims to change that by giving veterans an intensive, four-week training program in advanced manufacturing. If they complete the training, they get job counseling and a certificate recognized by major manufacturing firms, including GE and the other program sponsors.
Giuffre said he hopes his certificate will lead first to a job and, later, to engineering school.
"My biggest hope is I can find something meaningful," he said. "This is a good place to begin."