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In 2012, the average unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was approximately 10%, 3 percentage points above the national average. For veterans under the age of 25, unemployment was closer to 20%. And military spouse unemployment was at 15%.
As discouraging as these employment numbers may appear, they represent progress. The unemployment rate has dropped for every segment of the veteran population over the last three years.
Leading the charge is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) program, and its hands-on jobs fair model is a big part of that growth.
Launched in March 2011, HOH is a nationwide initiative to help veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment. Through its Hiring 500,000 Heroes campaign, a joint effort by the National Chamber Foundation and Capital One, approximately 1,400 businesses of all sizes had hired nearly 250,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013, with a commitment to hire an additional 110,000 veterans. The program is well on its way to reaching its goal of having 500,000 veteran hiring commitments by the end of 2014.
Building on the success of the program’s founder, Lt. Col. Kevin Schmiegel, HOH brought on Navy Reserve Judge Advocate Commander Eric Eversole as executive director of the program and a U.S. Chamber vice president in August 2013.
Prior to joining the Chamber, Eversole spent six years as attorney adviser at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, providing legal advice to the chairman and commissioners on issues involving the sale of electric power. In 2010, he founded the Military Voter Protection Project, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and protecting the voting rights of American service members.
The success of HOH is due in large part to its efforts in local communities throughout the United States. Working with the U.S. Chamber’s vast network of state and local chambers and other strategic partners from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, the program has hosted more than 670 hiring fairs in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. As a result, 21,600 veterans and military spouses have found meaningful jobs and careers.
Businesses find that they benefit from the skills that veterans and military spouses bring to the table, including discipline, leadership, and performance under stress. “We’re very veteran focused,” says Grant Johnston, vice president of New Jersey-based Airstreams Renewables. “There’s a benefit to hiring veterans—you know what you’re getting.”
Johnston attended an HOH jobs fair in Holmdel, New Jersey, seeking employees to work atop cell phone towers and wind turbines. “Veterans have discipline instilled in them,” Johnston told local news outlet NJ.com. “They are going to show up and get the job done. They attend to detail, important when you are working 700 feet up.”
Says Eversole, “The business community has truly stepped up in unprecedented ways to seize this opportunity and hire military talent. They understand that hiring veterans is not just the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing to do for their businesses.”
But Eversole is quick to point out that HOH has not done it alone. Through relationships forged with strategic partners such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, The American Legion, Blue Star Families, and many others, HOH has hosted hundreds of hiring fairs at no cost to employers or job-seeking veterans and military spouses.
“These partnerships have enabled us to begin moving the needle on veteran and military spouse unemployment,” Eversole says.
Realizing that military spouse unemployment also creates significant burdens on military families, HOH established a program for military spouses in 2012 and hosts 20 job fairs on military installations each year exclusively for them.
The program includes the first-of-its-kind Military Spouse Employment Advisory Council made up of nearly a dozen companies; LinkedIn networks to help military spouses network and identify employment opportunities; an eMentor program that connects protégé spouses with spouse-friendly employers; and networking receptions in conjunction with fairs for military spouses to interact with business leaders and other spouses in their communities.
Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords serves as honorary chairwoman of the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Employment Advisory Council. Giffords, a military spouse, helps raise awareness of the particular challenges military spouses face when searching for meaningful employment.
“While members of the military put on the uniform—they are not the only ones who serve,” says Giffords. “I’m proud to join hands with military spouses to help them put their unique skills to work in their communities.”