Accept the challenge to hire our military heroes
May 29, 2012
J.R. Hildebrand and Kevin Schmiegel
It’s hard to imagine how you could top the thrill of traveling 200 miles per hour in a race car. And there’s no bigger stage than the Indy 500. It’s a Memorial Day tradition and an event that is unlike any other.
But Memorial Day weekend is about more than speed. It is a time to honor our veterans and those who have died in military service. It marks the perfect opportunity to share a thrill that goes beyond anything that can be achieved on a race track — the thrill of giving back to those who have given so much.
In 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Chamber Foundation launched the Hiring Our Heroes program to create a movement across America. With 178 hiring fairs in 48 states, more than 10,000 veterans and military spouses have gotten jobs. But it’s hardly time to start waving the checkered flag.
Earlier this year, Hiring Our Heroes and Panther Racing teamed up to host events in conjunction with each Indy race, including the Indy 500. We’re engaging CEOs from companies across the country to raise awareness of the issue of veterans’ unemployment and using race days to connect employers directly with veterans who need jobs. Partnerships like this also help Hiring Our Heroes to expand, with a goal of hosting hiring fairs in 400 cities in our second year.
Beyond this great work, we know that we must also address the systemic issues facing our nation’s veterans before they leave the military and search for a second career. We must do a better job of helping transitioning service members prepare for the civilian workforce and make informed decisions about employment in the private sector.
For starters, we should tell them where the jobs are and show them the critical paths to good-paying jobs. We must also start guiding them to use their GI Bill for specific qualifications, so they can land one of two million jobs that President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address earlier this year. It’s unconscionable that there are a million unemployed veterans in America when we have twice as many jobs that aren’t being filled because we lack a trained workforce.
Veterans can help fill the huge skills gap in America. When World War II ended, America’s workforce, and the manufacturing sector in particular, was infused with millions of talented veterans and our economy thrived. With more than 1 million service members leaving active duty over the next five years, we have another opportunity to steer veterans to growth sectors like energy, health care, transportation and infrastructure, where there are massive demands for skilled workers.
Hiring veterans and military spouses is a national security imperative. High unemployment for post-9/11 veterans, members of the guard and reserve, and military spouses will become both a recruiting and a retention issue, if we don’t act now.
How can we expect young men and women to serve in the all-volunteer force, if they face higher unemployment than their peers after serving our nation? And why should military spouses encourage their partners to make the military a career and endure long separations and frequent moves, if they can’t achieve their own career aspirations?
Over the past year, many leaders in the public sector have called on the business community to do more. And we have responded. In March, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Chamber Foundation and Capital One announced the “Hiring 500,000 Heroes” campaign. Through this initiative, we are engaging the business community in committing by the end of 2014 to hire half a million veterans and military spouses. It is the largest private-sector employment commitment of its kind. In just two months, we’re more than a third of the way there, securing 181,000 commitments.
The time is now to put our foot on the pedal and hire our heroes to meet this aggressive goal. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing.