<< The Body Politic

Helping veterans help themselves

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

In an article this week in The Washington Times, Sgt. Dakota Meyer, a recent Medal of Honor recipient, and Kevin Schmiegel, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative, write about the high unemployment rate facing the nation’s returning veterans and discuss ways that they are helping veterans better prepare for the tough job market.

They write:

As we approach the 11-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, America’s armed forces have returned by the thousands from Iraq and we are in the early stages of the drawdown in Afghanistan. More than a decade later, many of the men and women who defended our country have left the service–only to find a grim employment picture waiting for them.

In 2011, the jobless rate for veterans who have served in our nation’s military since 9/11 was 50 percent higher than the national average. Veterans 24 and younger faced a staggering 29.1 percent unemployment rate last year. […]

In March 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Chamber Foundation launched the Hiring Our Heroes program. The goal from the outset was to create a movement across America. With more than 230 hiring fairs in 48 states and more than 10,400 veterans and military spouses landing jobs, this grass-roots campaign is taking hold in dozens of communities across America. With an aggressive goal of hosting hiring fairs in 400 cities in 2012, Hiring Our Heroes is the largest-scale effort of its kind. […]

Veterans also must do their part to compete in a tight job market. While they bring value to the workplace, they need to do a better job of marketing their unique experiences and skills as Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen. Infantrymen, scout snipers and cannoneers can’t expect to be hired after an interview filled with military jargon that boils down four years of honorable service to simply skills trained in weaponry.

Building a personal brand is not just about translating military occupational skills. Many are throwing that around as the “big fix,” but it’s more than that. Younger veterans have advanced technical skills and intangible qualities such as unparalleled discipline, a tireless work ethic, dependability and the ability to work in teams. These are qualities that their peers who went straight into college after high school have not had the opportunity to develop.

What business doesn’t want employees who have leadership experience and can adapt to rapidly changing circumstances and rise to any challenge? Veterans cannot expect employers–and human resource managers, in particular–to understand that without an explanation. There are no handouts, and veterans don’t want any. It’s a tough environment, and they must compete just like they did in uniform–on the rifle range, in the classroom and in the field. This is about telling the story of service to the nation–one that all veterans can be proud of and one that helps them stand out in a job interview.

Learn more about the Hiring Our Heroes initiative–including upcoming job fairs near you–here.