The Way Forward: Connecting Military Talent with American Businesses

09/23/2014  |  By Eric Eversole

In March 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation launched Hiring Our Heroes to connect our nation’s military veterans and spouses with meaningful employment opportunities. On paper, that mandate may seem simple, but the jobs situation facing veterans and spouses in 2011 was anything but. That year, post-9/11 veterans — men and women who had raised their right hand to serve during the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan — were returning home to 12 percent unemployment. Those under the age of 25 faced more than double that rate at 30 percent. Every one in four of their spouses was also unemployed.

The battle facing service members and spouses as they transition out of the military can be a tough one. Securing a stable income and establishing a new career are critical to the reintegration of military members and their families; however, it is also a vital opportunity for the American economy. From large corporations to family-owned franchises, the success of any business is directly related to the quality of its employees — their ability to collaborate, to solve problems, and to work until the job is done.

In order to remain competitive in today’s economic landscape, American businesses need skilled workers who are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. At Hiring Our Heroes, it is firmly believed that few individuals exemplify these qualities more than our nation’s veterans and military families.

From day one of their service, military members are instilled with the core values of their respective service. As their military careers continue, service members gain experience in leadership, management, innovation, and more. They can be counted on to make tough decisions under enormous pressure and to guide their peers to do the same.

Military spouses likewise possess distinctive skill sets honed by years of resilience and community-building. Spouses volunteer at a rate three times the national average and continually take leadership positions in schools, religious organizations, and community groups. They persist in finishing degrees, recreating networks, and finding new opportunities throughout multiple moves and deployments.

Still, it can be difficult for transitioning service members, veterans, and military spouses to find jobs. Some of these challenges are systemic like the struggle to find employment back home when you are halfway around the world. Others result from the difficulty in translating military specialties and language to prospective employers. Ultimately, these factors, as well as many others, lead to troubling unemployment rates among veterans and military spouses.

As part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, we recognize our position at the intersection of the public and private sectors. Thus, we developed a job fair model that allowed us to get companies and military job seekers in the same room in hundreds of communities throughout the nation. Sometimes all it takes is making a connection with a recruiter who understands your military background or receiving in-person feedback and assistance with your search. Since our launch, more than 1,500 companies have hired 21,600 veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses as a result of more than 670 hiring fairs held across the country.

At the core of our commitment to “Got Your 6” is the “Hiring 500,000 Heroes” campaign, launched with Capital One in March 2012. We knew 500,000 was an aggressive goal, but from the outset, we wanted companies willing to commit to know they were part of a larger movement. And we wanted it to be about both engaging some of America’s largest companies, but also small businesses from around the country.

Once a company commits, our staff works with each one to help them fulfill their commitments. We follow up with the employers on a regular basis, connect them with local assistance in their area, and address their hiring needs through the many resources we provide — from job fairs to our online resources to individual matching efforts. Thus far, more than 1,400 businesses of all sizes have pledged to hire 383,000 heroes toward this goal. Of these commitments, more than 255,000 veterans and spouses have been hired and thousands more are in the pipeline.

Hiring Our Heroes has also extended its reach to thousands more veterans, spouses, and businesses by developing effective online programs. These include virtual tools developed with dedicated partners like Toyota to help translate a veteran’s military service into a strong resume that civilian recruiters can understand; a jobs portal that allows veterans and service members to search for employment opportunities in America’s fastest growing job markets and industries; and a virtual matching program that connects veteran and spouse protégés with experienced mentors. In July, we made it possible for veterans and service members to add their completed resumes to a database searchable by employers at absolutely no cost.

This level of progress would not have been possible without our amazing partners. Private sector leaders like USAA, Verizon, and University of Phoenix, local chamber allies, key government agencies, and networks like Got Your 6 and Blue Star Families have been at the heart of our grassroots movement. With their help we’ve managed to create a unique hiring fair experience that is making an impact on those unemployment figures at the local level.

As a result of our combined efforts over the last three years, the business community has truly stepped up to seize this opportunity and hire military talent. This is the way forward: Working with our partners to apply the lessons we’ve learned over the last three years about what works and what could be better. Just like the businesses that commit to hire, for us, it is all about building the right team. Only together can we drive momentum on this important issue and connect talented veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses to the meaningful employment opportunities they deserve.

Eric Eversole is executive director of Hiring Our Heroes.
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