Veterans on Wall Street: Honoring and Employing our Veterans

Construction Companies Step Up to Hire Veterans

It's not just the patriotic thing to do. It's also a smart move for businesses.

By Michelle Obama

Feb. 9, 2014 5:57 p.m. ET

On Monday, more than 100 construction companies—many of whom are direct competitors—are coming together to announce that they plan to hire more than 100,000 veterans within the next five years. They made this commitment not just because it's the patriotic thing to do, and not just because they want to repay our veterans for their service to our country, but because these companies know that it's the smart thing to do for their businesses.

As one construction industry executive put it, "Veterans are invaluable to the construction industry. Men and women who serve in the military often have the traits that are so critical to our success: agility, discipline, integrity and the drive to get the job done right."

This is a sentiment I have heard again and again since Dr. Jill Biden and I first launched Joining Forces—a nationwide initiative to honor and support our veterans, troops and military families—in 2011. Back then, we issued a simple challenge to American businesses: Hire as many of these American heroes as you can. 

Since then, we have been overwhelmed by the response. From household names like Disney, to coalitions like Veterans on Wall Street and 100K Jobs Mission; to regional businesses and mom-and-pop shops and restaurants in tiny towns, American businesses have hired nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses.

The CEOs we've spoken to have been consistently impressed with their hires, reporting that veterans are some of the highest-skilled, hardest-working employees they've ever had. Current research supports these claims: A report from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University states that veterans are resilient, adept at building and leading teams, comfortable with diversity, and able to handle uncertainty. 

These traits come as no surprise given the training and experience the members of our Armed Forces get during their time in uniform. They master some of the most advanced information, medical and communications technologies in the world. They run complex operations, from distributing supplies to hundreds of locations to moving tons of equipment across the globe. They oversee dozens, even hundreds of their colleagues, inspiring service members from diverse backgrounds to succeed.

Yet their qualifications aren't always obvious from their résumés. Take the example of Glenn Tussing, who currently works at Disney. Glenn is an Air Force veteran who served as chief of future joint manpower requirements. In that role, he was responsible for figuring out the exact numbers and types of troops—from the pilots, to the engineers, to the medical personnel—needed for a mission to succeed. He would then locate those troops and help send them where they needed to go.

When Disney was looking for someone to oversee the menus at Disney properties around the world, it would have been easy for them to overlook Glenn since the link between manpower planning and menu management isn't exactly intuitive. But Disney has trained its HR specialists to translate military experience into civilian qualifications. So when they were looking for someone who could determine the exact quantities and types of ingredients for every meal they served—and get that information anywhere in the world it needed to go—they knew Glenn was their guy. In fact, today at Disney, Glenn uses the same types of databases and programs he used in the military.

There are so many veterans just like him. There are medics who've saved lives on the battlefield and could save lives as EMTs in their communities. There are tank commanders who've driven armored vehicles through combat zones and are more than capable of driving semis down our highways. There are engineers, welders, technicians and others who have skills that our businesses desperately need here at home, particularly in fast-growing industries like construction and health care. And with the Iraq war over and the war in Afghanistan winding down, hundreds of thousands of these qualified veterans are returning home, hanging up their uniforms and looking for good civilian careers.

My husband's administration is working hard to connect these veterans to good jobs by creating an online veterans jobs bank; by streamlining credentialing processes so veterans can apply their military training toward civilian certifications; by providing extensive career and education counseling for veterans; by allowing veterans to use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for training and apprenticeship programs, and more.

And while we've made some progress on veterans' unemployment, my husband and I won't be satisfied until every single veteran in this country who wants a job has one. So in the coming years, I hope that more businesses will go the extra mile to hire veterans. To get started, businesses can turn to one of the Labor Department's 2,600 American Job Centers across the country where trained staff can provide plenty of resources and expertise.

By hiring veterans, businesses won't just be giving American heroes the chances they deserve to keep serving our country. And they won't just be giving veterans' families the security that comes with a steady paycheck. These businesses will also be ensuring that they have the qualified employees they need to keep growing and creating new jobs and strengthening our economy for decades to come. And they will be sending a clear message that we honor those who've sacrificed for us, and are determined to serve them as well as they have served our country. America's veterans deserve no less.

Mrs. Obama is the first lady of the United States.

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. Copyright ©2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

   

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