Veterans Could Fill Skills Gap, Chamber Official Says

Mar 21, 2012

"I believe we are at the point now where we need the government’s assistance in several key areas to help the private sector [do more]," the Chamber's Kevin Schmiegel told members of a House Appropriations Subcommittee on March 21, 2012.

Hiring a veteran is a national security imperative and an opportunity for companies to gain a competitive advantage, the U.S. Chamber’s Kevin Schmiegel told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee.

“The Department of Defense spends hundreds of thousands of dollars training service members, and it is a lost investment if we don’t repurpose those skills to the private sector,” said Schmiegel, executive director of the Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program. “How can we expect young men and women to raise their right hands and serve in the armed forces if they face higher unemployment than their peers after serving our nation?”

Schmiegel—who testified before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, on what the U.S. Chamber is doing to help veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment in the private sector—offered up veterans as a pool of potential workers who can help fill the nation’s skills gap. “Several weeks ago in his State of the Union address, President Obama pointed to two million jobs in America that aren’t being filled because we lack a trained workforce. Veterans can help to fill that gap, because they have unique leadership experience and advanced technical expertise; they are excellent problem-solvers and they are extremely reliable.”

With more than one million service members scheduled to be leaving active duty over the next five years, the number of unemployed veterans is a growing problem. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report on the “Employment Situation of Veterans in 2010” shows that on average there were over one million unemployed veterans in America during 2010. While recent monthly reports from BLS show positive signs, alarming trends for post-9/11 veterans between the ages of 18 to 24 and members of the National Guard and Reserve continue.

The business community has responded to calls from leaders in the public sector to do more to help employ the nation’s heroes, Schmiegel said. Since launching its’ Hiring Our Heroes program in March of 2011, the Chamber has been at the heart of a nationwide campaign to connect veterans and military spouses with employers. Since its inception, Hiring Our Heroes has connected more than 100,000 veterans and military spouses with 5,000 different employers, and more than 8,500 of them have gotten jobs. Next week, Hiring Our Heroes is announcing a partnership with IndyCar and Panther Racing to host local employers seeking to hire veterans at each of the IndyCar races. 

Now it is time for the government to step up, Schmiegel said. “I believe we are at the point now where we need the government’s assistance in several key areas to help the private sector [do more]. We must look for innovative ways to assist transitioning service members before they become veterans,” he said.

While there are hundreds of veterans hiring programs, it is clear they are not working well enough, Schmiegel said. In many cases, they are duplicative, they compete with one another, and they cause unnecessary confusion for veterans and their families.

Instead, the government should do more to help veterans launch a small business, providing vocational education and apprenticeships, improving and expediting certification and licensing, and enhancing the availability of internships and mentoring programs. “I recommend that the public and private sectors come together as we have in more than 100 cities to focus on three specific areas that will help service members and military spouses find meaningful careers after serving our nation,” Schmiegel said.  

The specific focus areas include:

  • Removing barriers that impede veterans from receiving credit and applying what they learned in the military to rapidly find jobs in the private sector.
  • Revamping the transition assistance program.
  • Providing private sector employers with more access to transitioning service members before they leave the military.

Finally, Schmiegel suggested that all government programs—existing and new—“should be measured against clear objectives and established metrics, so we can focus on what is working and stop funding programs that are not producing results. We believe that the U.S. and local chambers of commerce are uniquely positioned to better coordinate public and private sector efforts in hundreds of cities across America."

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