By Evan Ishmael
Corporate America long ago realized that citizens who were willing and able to make sacrifices to protect their country not only were owed a debt of gratitude but were among the best employees. That belief forms the foundation underlying veteran hiring initiatives.
Hiring our Heroes was launched in 2011 to connect the military community with meaningful employment opportunities. The organization urges companies to pledge to employ a set number of veterans by a set date.
Efforts to hire vets have received widespread support from corporate executives and government leaders. In 2011, then First Lady Michelle Obama and future First Lady Jill Biden united to create “Joining Forces” a nationwide initiative challenging Americans to help our service members, veterans, and their families and support them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities.
Hiring Our Heroes in 2012 partnered with Capital One on a campaign to engage the business community to pledge to hire 500,000 veterans and military spouses. A major milestone was reached in 2015 when Hiring Our Heroes and Capital One announced that they reached the 500,000 goal.
The efforts continue to grow. Amazon was among the companies that came on board early, along with other corporate giants like Walmart, Starbucks, Comcast, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Amazon initially pledged to hire 25,000 more veterans and military spouses by 2021.
On July 13, 2021, Amazon announced plans to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses by 2024. Amazon currently employs around 40,000 veterans and plans to increase their veteran employment by 25,000 each year, the company said.
Eric Eversole, who leads Hiring Our Heroes, praised Amazon’s commitment.
“Amazon recognizes the diverse backgrounds and experiences veterans and military spouses bring and how they strengthen the workforce,” Eversole said in a press release. “Through their commitment to provide upskilling and employment opportunities in high demand careers, Amazon is equalizing opportunity for veterans and military spouses.”
In 2013, Blackstone Inc. (an American alternative investment management company) pledged to hire 100,000 veterans. On Nov. 11, 2021, the company announced that over 100,000 veterans, veteran spouses and caregivers have been hired across its portfolio companies.
In 2013, Walmart initiated their “ Welcome Home Veterans Commitment” pledging to reach a goal of employing over 250,000 veterans by 2020. Not only had Walmart surpassed that goal but, additionally, more than 44,000 of those employees have been promoted to roles with higher pay and greater responsibility at Walmart and Sam’s Club, according to company officials.
One example of someone who has greatly benefited from all these pledges is Jessica Huntsman. Huntsman served in the Army for almost 10 years before returning to civilian life. When Huntsman got out of the military, she possessed plenty of useful skills that most jobs could use, but finding a decent job was elusive. “I applied to 50 different places. I had a bachelors, I have a master’s degree. I had all this great military experience, but no takers,” Huntsman commented in an article on Walmart’s website.
But, in 2010, Huntsman was hired at Walmart as a developmental store manager. Within three months, she was promoted to store manager. Currently, she is senior director, BU Operations Support.
Huntsman attributes her success at Walmart partly to other military veterans, who she said go out of their way to help and support their fellow service members. “There’s always someone to pick you up and teach you,” Huntsman said. “It’s like a little secret club.”
Veteran-hiring initiatives are crucial with more than 200,000 military service members leaving active duty each year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, 18.5 million men and women were veterans, accounting for about 7 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population age 18 and over.
About half of veterans – almost 9 million – are in the civilian labor force.
The unemployment rate for all veterans (4.4 percent) was lower than the rate for nonveterans (5.3 percent) in 2021, the BLS reports. Still, that means that there are hundreds of thousands of veterans with useful skills – and great attitudes – without jobs. Veteran hiring initiatives continue to make progress in making sure that vets are matched with opportunities.
It must be an intentional effort, according to Ted Studdard, business to business operations manager of Home Depot (and a veteran himself). Home Depot is part of a coalition called Veterans Jobs Missions. Veterans Jobs Mission works with companies around the United States to ensure that Active and former service member employment is addressed.
Since the VTM had been in created in 2011, they have helped more than 830,000 veterans around the country find employment.
“America loves her veterans,” Studdard said in a VJM video, “but I think America struggles with how to leverage her veteran community to its highest capability.”
The VJM started with 11 companies in 2011 but has grown to 300 members. In May 2022, in honor of the 10-year anniversary of the organization, the coalition hosted a day-long event in Washington DC, dedicated to sharing the current challenges, practices and opportunities in veteran and military hiring. During the event, the coalition revealed a new commitment to hiring 2 million veterans and 200,000 military spouses in the next 10 years, according to its website.
“This coalition began with the recognition that we are united in a mission to support military families,” said Mark Elliott, Global Head of Military and Veterans Affairs at JPMorgan Chase & Co., a founding member of the Veteran Jobs Mission, at the event. “Ten years in, we need to focus on long-term career development and skill building for veterans and military spouses who stand to enrich our companies with their talents and diverse backgrounds.”