By LtCol Kevin Schmiegel , USMC (Ret.), Executive Director, Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
It’s been a busy month for us at Hiring Our Heroes since the launch of the Got Your 6 campaign. We’ve been hosting hiring fairs nationwide at a rate of more than one a day. And we’re closing in on a milestone – since the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Chamber Foundation launched Hiring Our Heroes in March 2011, nearly 10,000 veterans and military spouses have gotten jobs.
It has been an honor to lead this program from its inception and see what it has become. From my own experience as a 20-year Marine veteran and traveling around the country as the senior staffer to the President and CEO of the Chamber, Tom Donohue, it was clear that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce could play a leading role in connecting thousands of our member companies with talented veterans and military spouses. We also knew it would be critically important to partner closely with the public and non-profit sectors at the federal, state, and local levels. Our aggressive goal in year one was to host 100 hiring fairs in local communities and create a movement across America.
The movement we envisioned is well underway. Next week, Hiring Our Heroes will host our 200th hiring fair. And we have another 300 scheduled in our second year. But with your help, we can do more.
We have an army of fans growing on Facebook from 1,500 in January to over 60,000 today; show your support by following and liking our grassroots efforts every day. You can also encourage your own employer to participate in one of our hiring fairs. It’s free and there’s only requirement – the companies that come to our fairs must have jobs available.
Businesses, large and small, can also join our “Hiring 500,000 Heroes” campaign. Launched in March by the National Chamber Foundation and Capital One, we are engaging the business community to commit to hiring half a million veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014. In just over three months, we have secured more than 182,000 commitments toward this unprecedented goal.
This isn’t about charity. Hiring Our Heroes is about connecting companies to the most talented men and women in America. Veterans bring a discipline and skill-set to the table that is unique because of their military service. They’ve received world-class technical training; they are able to lead and work in teams; they can act on their feet and are problem solvers.
Despite the logical fit for companies of all sizes, the jobs picture for veterans is sobering. The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans sits at 12.1%, more than 40% higher than the national average. For veterans under 25, it is a staggering 29.1%. And for military spouses – one off the most educated populations in the country – it’s 26%.
We believe that these numbers represent a national security issue for our country. We cannot expect young men and women to raise their right hands and serve in an all-volunteer force if they face higher unemployment than their peers after serving.
We should view the imminent drawdown of our armed forces as an opportunity. After World War II, millions of veterans re-entered the workforce – and the massive infusion of talent helped our economy thrive. With over one million service members leaving active-duty over the next five years, employers in growth sectors like energy, healthcare, transportation and infrastructure (where there are massive demands for skilled workers) must draw from this incredibly talented pool of younger veterans.
It is an honor for Hiring Our Heroes to be leading the Jobs Pillar of Got Your 6. This campaign will go a long way toward raising awareness of the issue of veterans’ unemployment. We want employers to recognize that hiring a veteran or military spouse isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing.