Editor’s Note: Lieutenant General Michael Ferriter is president and CEO of the new National Veterans Memorial and Museum. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to focus my post-military career on service to veterans. It is my mission to help them succeed, to show compassion, and ultimately to support their transition from active duty to civilian life. While this transition is unique to each individual, it is clear that there is one obstacle that the majority of veterans collectively face: the uncertainty of the next step in their career.
Veterans repeatedly tell me that the pathway throughout their military career was clearly marked. First basic training, then on to being assigned to a squad, all while working to achieve excellence in their military craft and becoming a member of a team with a mission. But once they start looking for a job, they often describe feeling like they jumped out of the aircraft without a parachute.
While the veteran unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in 2018, down from 4.5% in 2017, veterans are still too often faced with missed opportunities within the workspace due to a lack of understanding of who a veteran truly is. From the notion that active-duty skills do not transfer well to the workforce to the idea that all veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, these misapprehensions fuel a false narrative about the American veteran.
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The reality is, veterans are incredible assets to any line of work. Through efforts working with various veterans’ organizations, I have met so many capable individuals with untapped talent eager for an opportunity. These men and women are natural leaders, creative problem solvers and diverse and enriched thinkers who have had the world as their classroom. For 35 years in the military, I was expected to build teams, accomplish each mission, be flexible and always find a solution despite the obstacles in front of me. These skills are expected of each individual who chooses to serve their country and can only grow upon their return home and their transition into business.
I recognize these qualities in the men and women I have been fortunate enough to work alongside. One of my sergeants from Iraq, Carson Wilshire, completed his undergraduate education at The Ohio State University and earned a position with Nationwide Insurance when he returned home. Wilshire went on to receive a promotion within two years at Nationwide, in part due to the exceptional leadership and teambuilding skills he developed during his time in the military.
Dan Alarik, a former Army drill sergeant, began making t-shirts in a back bedroom of his home when he returned from duty. Alarik eventually moved his business out of his bedroom and established Grunt Style, a clothing company that now employs hundreds of workers, many of whom are veterans. Alarik’s pioneering work helps guide the way for other veterans and offers them a foot in the door to civilian life and business.
Some companies are grasping the true value of the American veteran by developing initiatives specifically geared toward hiring veterans. JPMorgan Chase, for example, has employed more than 14,000 veterans since 2011. In addition to the company’s dedication to hiring veterans, it offers free career courses to veterans and military spouses and has deeded more than 1,000 mortgage-free homes to military families.
Verizon also seeks out leaders with military experience. The company has over 11,000 veteran employees, along with an online skills matcher that suggests open positions for prospective employees based on veterans’ military experience, location and branch of service.
While veterans have proven to thrive in areas where their skills easily translate, such as construction-based work, cybersecurity and management positions, businesses like JPMorgan Chase and Verizon are a testament to the fact that veteran skills are universal. If a company takes the time to educate itself on the types of skills a veteran can offer, the opportunities are endless. I have yet to find a business that would not benefit from an adaptable, dependable, self-motivated worker.
The men and women who serve our country make countless sacrifices to protect our freedom. They serve all over the world and are away from their loved ones and communities for extended periods of time. When they return, they strengthen that community with incredible spouses and partners, thoughtful and disciplined children, and their own desire, as winners by nature, to make their community, and their place of work, the best it can be. My call to all who read this is to fight to get veterans on your team just as hard as they have fought and served for you. I trust, wholeheartedly, you will be happy you did.