Since 2001, two million men and women have completed tours of service in the U.S. military and returned to civilian life. An additional million will leave the armed forces over the next five years.
Millions of veterans looking for employment prompt us to ask what we can do to help. The obvious response is to get them into the civilian workforce as quickly as possible. But simply providing a job may not be the optimal solution—because the issue for these men and women isn't just jobs. It's careers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has consistently reported an unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans that is several percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate. Yet even these statistics do not capture the extent of the problem.
Upon leaving the service, many veterans confront the complexities of the civilian world with a sense that they start out behind in the game. This, compounded by the weight of immediate financial need and family obligations, may lead them to take the first job offered, whether or not it will make the most of their skills and ambitions. As a result, they run a substantial risk of being underemployed or in dead-end jobs.
Former servicemembers who led large-scale endeavors in combat, supervising dozens or even hundreds of soldiers in the most demanding of missions, can thus find themselves stuck at the bottom of the corporate ladder. Many end up working solitary jobs as security guards, in call centers or with delivery companies. These veterans may no longer be considered unemployed for statistical purposes, but they are not able to realize their full potential. They know they can do better but don't know how to do so.
Many government agencies are working hard to help veterans get jobs; so too are nonprofit organizations. And numerous corporations have hiring initiatives for veterans. All of these efforts are commendable.
Yet private businesses can go further, by providing training and education, career guidance, networking opportunities and mentoring. American Corporate Partners, for example, is a nonprofit organization that connects veterans with corporate professionals.
Some 60% of ACP applicants want help in understanding what kinds of jobs would match their skills and experience, and they want to learn how to explain those attributes to job recruiters. These veterans need assistance to understand where to find jobs that will provide opportunities for advancement, how to get an interview, how to do well in that interview, and, ultimately, how to succeed and progress in a civilian organization. ACP works with companies that join its Veteran Mentoring Program to assist new veterans, and it helps veterans gain access to the companies' employee resource groups for internal training and military transition support.
Individuals can also play an important role by serving as advisers to veterans. ACP AdvisorNet, an online Q&A forum, allows any qualified civilian to sign up as an adviser and answer career-related questions from veterans all over the world. American entrepreneurs are particularly welcome to join the ACP AdvisorNet. Many returning veterans would like to launch small businesses and to learn from those who have already done so. The former members of our armed forces have done their part to ensure America's national security, often sacrificing greatly in the process. Now it is our turn to do our part to help them build promising futures for themselves and their families.
Gen. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Ret.) commanded U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and served as director of the CIA. He is a senior adviser to American Corporate Partners. Mr. Goodfriend, a retired investment banker, is founder/chairman of American Corporate Partners. https://acp-advisornet.org