White House Quadruples Vet Hiring Goal

First lady Michelle Obama speaks to the quarterly meeting of member Chief Executive Officers of the Business Roundtable in Washington, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

White House officials have set a new goal for companies and organizations to hire and train 435,000 veterans and military spouses by 2019 since eclipsing an earlier goal of 100,000 by 2014.

The ambitious new target was announced Monday as the White House prepared for a Tuesday press conference to reveal what First Lady Michelle Obama called “ground-breaking commitments by companies across this country to hire even more of our veterans and military spouses.”

Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, have been advocating for veteran and military spouse employment through the Joining Forces initiative established two years ago. The program works to rally support for troops, military families and veterans from people, businesses, communities, non-profit groups, faith-based institutions, charities and government agencies.

It was just 18 months ago that Mrs. Obama announced at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington that American businesses had committed to hiring and training 100,000 veterans and military spouses by 2014. The White House said on Monday that the program has resulted in more than 290,000 veterans and military spouses being hired and trained.

Mrs. Obama’s remarks on Monday kicked off a series of roundtable talks among Defense Department, employers, and veterans organization representatives on ways to improve employment opportunities for veterans and their spouses.

The newest corporate hiring commitments, to be formally announced at the White House by President Obama, the First Lady, and Jill Biden include commitments by retail giant Walmart and the Blackstone Group, a multinational private equity, investment banking, and asset management corporation, to hire thousands of veterans.

Walmart announced in January that it would give priority employment consideration to any honorably discharged veteran who applies for a job within 12 months of leaving the military. It has also committed to hiring 100,000 veterans over the next five years.

Bill Simon, chief executive officer for Walmart, said the hiring effort will “begin in earnest on Memorial Day.” The company has set a goal of processing veterans’ applications in 30 days.

“We’ve also reached out to other companies” that Walmart does business with, he said. “We wrote to 50 of the largest employers and asked them to make commitments [to hire veterans].” He said 43 responded positively to the plan.

He also said Walmart is working with several other companies to create a “talent exchange” for veteran job applicants, so that if a veteran does not meet the needs of one company his or her application can be forwarded directly to another.

Steve Schwarzman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, said the corporation is committed to hiring 50,000 veterans across its group of companies over the next five years.

“Blackstone makes this commitment because it is right for America and because it is good for business,” Schwarzman said. “Veterans have skills and attributes we’re looking for.” He said studies have found veterans are reliable, motivated and trustworthy – “the kind of people that will help Blackstone grow,” he said.

He also said Blackstone intends to develop a management training program for veterans transitioning to private sector careers.

Schwarzman dismissed a suggestion that there is any risk to hiring veterans.

“We’re in the business of taking risk in almost everything we do,” he said. “I don’t look at this as risk; I think it’s smart for us to be doing this. I don’t really think about the downside. The only downside is that people might not work out, and that’s a risk you have when you hire anyone.”

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