The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring 100 job fairs for veterans, with a goal of finding employment for 100,000 former service members and their spouses.
The fairs will take place between March 2011 and March 2012 in communities across the country.
"Hiring Our Heroes," as the program is called, came about through a partnership between the chamber, the U.S. Dept. of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service, and the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
First Lady Michelle Obama has touted the program as one of several initiatives underway to improve the lives of service members and their families, and local chambers of commerce are also providing support.
"Hiring Our Heroes" launched on March 24 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago, Ill., with a career fair showcasing job opportunities from 127 employers. Some 1,200 veterans and their spouses participated, and based on post-event feedback about 150 of them are likely to get jobs.
That's according to Kevin M. Schmiegel, vice president of the chamber's Veterans Employment Programs, who testified about the "Hiring Our Heroes" program before the U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs on June 1.
"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," he told the committee in a prepared statement. "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."
Schmiegel, a former U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, pointed out that more than a million of the nation's 22 million veterans were unemployed in 2010, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for veterans was 8.7 percent, slightly below the 9.4 rate for non-veterans.
He was particularly concerned about the hiring outlook for younger veterans. The unemployment rate was 11.5 percent for those who served in 2001 or later, and for those in the 18-to-24 age group, the rate shot past 20 percent. Schmeigel added that thousands of troops will return to the civilian workforce this year: 155,000 from the armed forces and 100,000 guard and reservists. More may be behind them given the troop reductions planned for Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to the "Hiring Our Heroes" job fairs, the chamber is participating in three other initiatives to help veterans and their families find private-sector employment.
The Wounded Warrior Transition Assistance Program, a partnership between the chamber, the USO and other military support organizations, provides "career opportunity days" that are a bit like small-scale job fairs, with no more than 20 employers and 100 veterans in attendance. The program also offers quarterly workshops on resume writing, interviewing and other job search skills.
Also, in June, the chamber launched the Student Veterans Internship and Employment Program in partnership with the Student Veterans of America. According to Schmiegel, the program is available to 40,000 student veterans. And the Women Veteran and Military Spouse Employment Program aims to create a network of 10,000 women mentors in the business community to connect with women veterans and military wives by the end of 2012.