Long before I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant in 1974, I knew that I would someday serve in the military. My father served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and his sense of duty was passed down to me. The military has always been a part of my life, and even now, as a civilian, it still very much is.
Over the course of my 31-year career in the Army, I had the opportunity to serve alongside many brave men and women and experienced some incredible, life-changing events, including spending a memorable 4th of July in Red Square in the 1990s and being in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
According to the Department of Defense, more than 200,000 men and women transition from active duty to civilian life each year. These veterans bring years of leadership training, problem solving and a host of other strong, transferable skills to the civilian workforce.
Despite an exceptional skill base, there were more than 370,000 unemployed veterans in the United States in 2017, 59 percent of whom were between the ages of 25 and 54. While the numbers are improving, some states still have a veteran unemployment rate as high as 7 percent. Female veterans face even higher rates of unemployment than their male counterparts.
I’ve worked over the last decade to help veterans find employment. Through our interactions, I’ve listened to their frustrations with navigating the multiple agencies offering job placement services and the struggle they face when applying their military skills to civilian job descriptions. We can and must do better by these men and women who gave so much for our country.
Veterans bring tremendous value to the workforce and should be embraced with resources to find not just a job, but a fulfilling civilian career when they return home. While government agencies offer resources and support, they cannot do it alone. Nonprofits like Hire Heroes USA, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, the Women’s Veterans Network and Hiring Our Heroes are all making strides to support veterans and military spouses navigating the process.
The business community has an important role to play as well. Hiring veterans should be a top priority for any company that wants to add true leaders, problem solvers and innovators to their workforce, and many have stepped. Companies like First Data, Lockheed Martin, The Walt Disney Company and USAA are already making a difference.
Our Veterans Welcome Home Commitment is something on which we are laser-focused and work toward fulfilling every day. We set a goal to hire 250,000 veterans by the end of 2020, and since May 2013, we have hired more than 200,000 veterans and promoted more than 28,000 to roles of higher pay and greater responsibility. We are proud to be more than 80 percent of the way to completing our goal and even more gratified that the new veteran associates are turning these opportunities into careers.
We’ve learned over the last few years through our veteran hiring commitment that we have a much better chance of retaining our veteran hires if they have an early understanding of the company’s mission; if they are able to make a positive impact to their team and/or the business quickly; and if they feel supported. Furthermore, we’ve found that a clear vision of a new veteran associate’s future or career path within the organization is one of the more crucial pieces to veteran recruitment and retention.
To realize those ends, our evolving, but generally enduring, strategic and programmatic approach includes an integrated, complementary, technological and personal process to achieve scale without sacrificing a human touch and onboarding veterans in partnership with seasoned associates with similar backgrounds.
Determining career aspirations, translating a portfolio of preparation and experience, communicating it to talent acquisition professionals, and interviewing can be quite daunting for those transitioning from the military; therefore, we offer an opportunity for veteran candidates to consult with experts.
Perhaps one of our most successful practices is our onboarding process where we place new hires with seasoned associates who are veterans, military spouses, current serving members of the Guard or Reserve or those who have an affinity for those who have served.
We all have a role to play in supporting our men and women when they are in uniform and supporting them when they return home. We can and should be true partners with our service members and their families during every step of their service journey whether that leads them along a path of opportunity with our own company or elsewhere.
Retired Brigadier General Gary Profit is the senior director of military programs for Walmart.