Witness Testimony of Kevin M. Schmiegel, Vice President, Veterans' Employment Program, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and Members of the Committee, my name is Kevin Schmiegel, and I am the vice president of veterans' employment programs at the United States Chamber of Commerce.
Thank: you for the opportunity to appear as a witness before the Committee and speak to you about veterans' employment and what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is doing to help our Nation's heroes find meaningful employment in the private sector.
As you know, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world's largest business federation representing the interests of three million members and organizations of every size, sector, and region.
The reason the Chamber is interested in our Nation's veterans is simply that many of our members, which include thousands of small, medium, and large businesses, want to hire veterans. Even with high unemployment, we have a huge skills gap in America that is hindering our recovery and undermining our global competitiveness. Veterans can help to fill that gap, because they have unique leadership experience and incredible technical expertise. They are excellent problem-solvers and they are extremely reliable, and let's not forget that 90 percent of military occupations are directly transferrable to jobs in the private sector. The Chamber's veterans programs will help raise awareness across the business community of this great pool of potential workers who can help fill our Nation's skills gap.
As a veteran myself, it is an honor and a privilege to be here today. Two years ago, I retired from the United States Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel after 20 years of active duty service.
My own transition from the military to the civilian workforce was full of good fortune. I was lucky to have a mentor like former National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones, who took a very special interest in my search for a second career. I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time. And I was lucky to be hired by an organization like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce whose President and CEO Tom Donohue understands and appreciates the value of hiring a veteran. Not every veteran is that lucky.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the "Employment Situation of Veterans in 2010" shows that on average there were over one million unemployed veterans in America during 2010. With an overall population of 22 million veterans and a total of just over 12 million veterans in the civilian workforce, veterans had a jobless rate of 8.7 percent last year. While this was comparable to the national average unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, there are some alarming trends that may result in higher unemployment for veterans in the short term. For example, the unemployment rate for post 9-11 era veterans was 11.5 percent with younger veterans (those ages 18 to 24) suffering from an average unemployment rate above 20 percent in 2010. For that age category, the unemployment rate among veterans currently stands at a staggering 26.9 percent. Additionally, current or past members of the Reserve or National Guard had an unemployment rate of 14.0 percent in July 2010.
Data for these cohorts are even more concerning given ail additional 155,000 veterans will be leaving active duty and 100,000 guard and reservists will be demobilized and returning to the workforce in 2011.
With the potential draw down of our armed forces and significantly higher rates of unemployment for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and returning guard and reservists on the horizon, the Chamber has started several initiatives that will enhance private sector job opportunities for veterans and their spouses.
The U.S. Chamber's Hiring our Heroes Program
In March of 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched its Hiring our Heroes program, a year-long nationwide effort to help veterans and their spouses find meaningful employment. The Chamber started the program in partnership with Mr. Ray Jefferson, the Assistant Secretary for the Department of Labor Veterans Employment and Training Service (DOL VETS) and Mr. Ron Young, Executive Director National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), to improve public-private sector coordination in local communities, where veterans and their families are returning every day.
With our federation of business leaders, state and local chambers, and industry associations spanning nearly every state and city, the Chamber has the infrastructure to lead a nationwide campaign to connect veterans and military spouses with employers. Working with our extensive network of state and local chambers, DOL VETS, ESGR, veterans' services organizations, and businesses of all sizes representing all sectors, we are coordinating public and private sectors to better match veteran talent with career opportunities in local communities across the country.
There are four pillars of the Chamber's Hiring our Heroes program. While the main focus of effort is on connecting all veterans and military spouses with second careers in the private sector, we have also created strategic partnerships in three other areas to deal with specific populations of veterans and their unique challenges. They include: a Wounded Warrior Transition Assistance Program, a Student Veterans Internship and Employment Program, and a Women Veteran and Military Spouse Employment Program. Our aggressive agenda focuses on one measure of success-jobs for the one million unemployed veterans in America.
100 Hiring Fairs for Veterans and Military Spouses
In the coming year, the Chamber will host 100 hiring fairs with local chambers of commerce-across the country. The first of these hiring fairs took place in Chicago on March 24, 2011 and was a huge success with 127 employers and 1,200 veterans and their spouses participating. Initial feedback from the veterans and employers indicates that approximately 150 of the veterans and military spouses who attended are likely to get jobs.
To make our hiring fairs more meaningful for veterans and military spouses and to gain traction in local communities, we have enlisted high level public and private sector speakers to keynote our hiring fair events and have employed an aggressive media and public relations campaign, which has earned the attention of news outlets across the country. The Chamber's Hiring our Heroes program was recently highlighted in several national media outlets as part of Joining Forces, a campaign backed by First Lady Michelle Obama, to educate, employ and mentor u.s. service members and their families.
We are also offering transitional workshops in conjunction with many of our hiring fairs and have created an information technology system to track a number of important metrics to include job placements for veterans and their spouses-an area where our Nation has fallen woefully short in the past. By hosting these 100 hiring fairs, we hope to connect 100,000 veterans and spouses with over 1,000 different employers over a 12-month period.
Wounded Warrior Transition Assistance Program
Our program for Wounded Warriors is tailored to meet the unique challenges and demands for wounded warriors, spouses and caregivers. In partnership with the usa, Hire Heroes USA, and wounded warrior transition units in Fort Carson, Colorado and Fort Belvoir, Virginia, we are hosting quarterly transition workshops and career opportunity days with the potential to scale to several additional locations in 2012. Our goal is to build a wounded warrior pipeline that directly connects these talented young men and women who have honorably served our country with companies that are dedicated to their successful transition to the private sector.
To prepare wounded warriors for career opportunities, wounded warrior transitional workshops teach participants necessary skills such as resume writing, interviewing, goal setting and basic financial planning for effective job searching. Career opportunity days provide wounded, ill, and injured troops and their spouses with an opportunity to conduct mock interviews and network with prospective employers in a more intimate environment than traditional career fairs. We have established this format because wounded, ill, and injured service members are often overwhelmed by the magnitude of career fairs and choose not to participate, resulting in employers losing the opportunity to hire these high-potential employees.
Career opportunity days are limited to no more than 20 dedicated employers and 100 wounded warriors who are niaking the transition to a civilian career. Employers are connected directly with 10 prospective employees based on a mutual interest in either the employer's industry or the wounded warrior's military background.
We have also started discussions with Mr. John Campbell, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy, to offer innovative private sector solutions to help wounded, ill, injured and transitioning service members transition seamlessly to civilian life.
Student Veterans Internship and Employment Program
The U.S. Chamber is partnering with Student Veterans of America (SVA) on several new initiatives to enhance the ability of student veterans to find meaningful employment in the private sector upon graduation. Our jobs and internship program will be launched in early June 2011 at over 350 colleges and universities and will initially be available to over 40,000 student veterans seeking internships and job opportunities across the Nation. In addition to conducting tailored hiring fairs for student veterans at SVA's National Conference in December 2011 and their Annual Leadership Summit in 2012, we have elicited the support of several Fortune 100 companies to establish campus recruiting programs and to work with SVA chapters to develop a nationwide internship program for student veterans from campuses in all 50 states.
Women Veteran and Military Spouse Employment Program
The Chamber is working with Business and Professional Women's (BPW) Foundation and have started discussions with Mr. Robert Gordon, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, in an effort to help women veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment in the private sector. In addition to collaborating with the White House on its Joining Forces initiative and connecting the business community with the Department of Defense on nationwide efforts to employ active duty spouses in the private sector, we will enlist the support of American Chambers of Commerce abroad and global companies to help place military spouses in jobs overseas.
While women veterans and military spouses will be the beneficiaries of many of our other programs, we will also host tailored events and champion specific forums to address some of their unique challenges in finding employment. One of the primary goals of this program is to significantly decrease women veteran and military spouse unemployment by establishing a network of 10,000 women mentors in the business community to connect with women veterans and military wives by the end of 2012.
Principles for Success
Before closing I'd like to outline five fundamental principles that we believe are critically important to the success of our programs.
First, local communities must be the cornerstone of any national program to reduce veterans' unemployment. I say this with confidence based on professional experience. In my final few years as a Marine, I served as the head of enlisted monitors managing 60 human resources specialists who were responsible for the assignment and retention of 170,000 Marines worldwide. Over a two year period, our department interviewed tens of thousands of Marines about their decision to stay or leave active duty. Of those who were leaving the service, an overwhelming majority were more concerned about where they were going rather than what they were going to do for a second career. Additionally, exit surveys from all service components reinforce that geographic preference is an important consideration when veterans are entering the civilian workforce. While the U.S. Chamber can have some effect talking to public and private sector leaders in Washington DC, it pales in comparison to the impact we can have with the help of chambers of commerce, business leaders and government officials in local communities where veterans are returning every day.
Second, we must do a better job of coordinating public and private sector efforts in local communities. While there are no shortages of hiring programs for veterans, it is clear those programs are not working well enough. The fact is there are hundreds and hundreds of private sector companies, non-profits, NGOs, veteran services organizations and government agencies that have individual programs to help veterans find jobs. However, most of these individual programs are not yielding results, and collectively, they are falling woefully short. Because they are duplicative, they compete with one another, they cause unnecessary confusion for veterans and their families, and they are not well coordinated. We believe that the u.S. and local chambers of commerce are uniquely positioned to better coordinate public and private sector efforts in hundreds of cities across America.
Third, we must look for other innovative ways to help transitioning veterans, including helping them start or grow a small business; improving certification, licensing, and vocational education for veterans and their spouses; and enhancing the availability of internships and mentoring programs within the business community. With our strong federation of business leaders, state and local chambers, and industry associations spanning nearly every state and city, the Chamber can playa massive role in establishing private sector programs that assist military families in their transition to civilian life.
Fourth, all programs-existing and new-should be measured against clear objectives and established metrics, so we can focus on what is working and stop funding programs that are not producing results. When the Chamber completes the last of our 100 hiring fairs we will host a summit with all of stakeholders to analyze outcomes and discuss best practices.
And finally, we need to build on the incredible momentum that has brought veterans issues to the forefront of America's psyche and take advantage of what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, has called a "sea of goodwill." As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The time is always right to do what is right." It is clear that now is the time to positively affect veterans unemployment and to do it right.
Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and distinguished Members of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is committed to helping better coordinate public and private sector efforts to find meaningful employment for veterans and their spouses in local communities where they are returning every day. Our success will be measured by the impact our programs have on helping our veterans find and keep good jobs in the private sector.
Thank you for this committee's unwavering commitment and support of veterans and their families.
I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today and look forward to answering your questions.