Industryweek 10381 Veterans

Why 2016 Is the Year for Veterans in the Workplace

Feb. 19, 2016
This year, the U.S. will see unprecedented numbers of service members transitioning from the military as we draw down in Afghanistan and face tighter defense budgets. They'll need help communicating their skills and background in terms employers can understand.

The U.S. is doing a better job helping veterans find work, but still more needs to be done, especially among recent vets.

In November, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that veterans actually had a lower unemployment rate at 3.6% than Americans overall, who faced a rate of about 5%. This reflects ongoing efforts to train members of the military with valuable job skills before they join the workforce, new initiatives by businesses and nonprofits to get veterans jobs and the changing attitudes among everyday Americans about the value that former service members bring to the workforce.

Still, there’s always room for improvement. That same report showed that the youngest cohort of post-9/11 veterans, those ages 20 to 24, had a 7.3% unemployment rate—still lower than their non-veteran peers but higher than it should be for people who sacrificed so many of their working years to serve their country.

As a former Marine who advises businesses on hiring veterans, I have seen a number of companies make a serious commitment to embracing veterans as valued employees and leaders. Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, for instance, provides formal IT training for service members before their separation date. Cisco fast-tracks transitioning military personnel through IT training and certification and has provided $2.5 million in seed money to  Futures Inc., which develops sophisticated algorithms to match military job codes with civilian jobs and career paths.

Not only does Lockheed Martin hire an incredible number of transitioning service members, but it is also a longtime supporter of critical veteran-service organizations such as the Fisher House, the Mission Continues and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).  

But before they can get these jobs, veterans and transitioning service members have to get through an interview. Many of them have difficulty communicating their skills and military backgrounds in terms that civilian employers can understand. Post-9/11 veterans have often never written a resume or interviewed with an employer while serving in the military.Although they have years of incredible experience and invaluable skills, they may have trouble explaining that to a hiring authority. Fortunately, a wide variety of programs are available to help them with these exact issues. 

At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where I lead the Wounded Veteran and Caregiver Program, the Hiring Our Heroes campaign has helped hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses find employment since 2011. It also offers online resources for job seekers, including an eMentor program, an online resume builder searchable by thousands of employers and a 24/7 virtual career fair platform. 

Similarly, the former 100,000 Jobs Mission spearheaded by JP Morgan Chase met its initial goal several times over, and ended up changing its name to the Veteran Jobs Mission. It’s now comprised of a coalition of more than 200 private-sector businesses with a collective goal of hiring one million veterans.

These efforts couldn’t come at a better time. This year, the U.S. will see unprecedented numbers of service members transitioning from the military as we draw down in Afghanistan and face tighter defense budgets. In fact, according to the American Council on Education, we should expect approximately 1.5 million to make that transition over the next three-to-five years, which represents a 30% increase over the normal rate.

That might sound daunting, but I regularly hear from employers that they are unsure where to find veterans to hire. If you’re in that position, I recommend that you take the time to forge relationships not only with the groups mentioned above, but also government initiatives such as the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, the Veterans Employment Center at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and grassroots organizations such as the Veteran Success Resource Group, all of which focus on veteran employment and supporting those who employ former military members.

Ultimately, I predict that although greater numbers of service members will leave the military in the next few years, the veteran unemployment rate will stay at current levels—and might even dip lower.  Because so many corporations and nonprofits now realize the invaluable contributions of our veterans and military spouses in the workplace, combined with new programs to connect all the relevant players, today’s veterans are heading into a very supportive work environment. As a result, these groups will benefit greatly as a result of their veteran-hiring initiatives.

There has never been a better time to be a veteran looking for a job. And it’s only going to get better as long as we all keep our focus on the mission.

Justin Constantine, author of My Battlefield, Your Office, is a speaker, leadership consultant, entrepreneur and TED lecturer who serves as a liaison between the military and corporate communities. He received a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps. 

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