It’s well documented that unemployment for our military veterans is disproportionately high.
According to some estimates, nearly a third of our youngest veterans returning from combat and serving our nation can’t find work, which is considerably higher than their non-veteran peers.
The question that all of us ask is “why?”
While veteran populations are disproportionately under-employed, they’re also disproportionately qualified for our most in-demand roles. So it raises questions about what systematic differences are present in this community that put these more qualified workers in a less marketable position.
I believe these differences are both structural and cultural.
The US Department of Defense has the most effective large-scale training program in the world. It’s unmatched in its ability to develop men and women with the Values, discipline and skills necessary to protect our national interests at home and abroad. Our military academies, ROTC programs, basic training, and post-graduate programs cultivate world-class skills for our women and men in combat and personnel supporting the largest-scale operations on the planet.
While it prepares men and women for warfare, the Department of Defense doesn’t cultivate the networking and relationship skills necessary to empower careers within the military and in post-military civilian lives. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the US Department of Labor lend support to this cause, but generally in the form of tactical programs and job fairs. They don’t inculcate networking and professional development into the cultures of service men and women.
In the civilian world, tools like LinkedIn have transformed professional networking. But they haven’t translated to the unique culture of the military, which is specialized and proprietary. We’re generally not comfortable sharing our assignments, skills, accomplishments and relationships with the broader universe beyond our community. We’re trained to operate with discretion and live the value of selfless service.
So it’s no surprise that a fraction of our military is currently using LinkedIn.
I recently got involved with two Iraq War veterans with a vision for solving this problem. Yinon Weiss was deployed in Iraq as a Green Beret in the Army Special Forces. Aaron Kletzing, a West Point grad, served as a Fire Support Officer outside of Baghdad. They met, first on the battlefield and again at Harvard Business School, where they launched RallyPoint, a private community designed explicitly for military members to take greater control of their careers both during their time in service and in their transition to civilian life.
RallyPoint recently won the $100,000 first prize in MassChallenge, the largest startup competition in the world, which drew from a pool of some 1200 new ventures.
RallyPoint is the platform that can help reshape the professional networking culture of the military community, helping to empower many well-qualified service men and women. I see it as a bridge between silos: Today, the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Labor are isolated organizations that don’t effectively collaborate to encourage the professional networking culture required to make our service members more competitive.
While the slow economic recovery hasn’t returned us to full employment, some sectors are feeling the pinch of a labor shortage. Particularly notable are technical roles in information technology, energy and healthcare, which uniquely line up to the skills developed in service.
Why, then, do Veterans find themselves disproportionately unemployed?
In large part, it’s the historical absence of a professional networking culture in the military and purpose-built communities like RallyPoint that enable this culture to take root. If our service members are exposed to the same professional networking as their civilian counterparts, they will see increased opportunities while serving and once transitioned back to civilian life.
Once businesses fully understand our Veterans and what they represent as Values-based, disciplined, trained and workforce-ready leaders, they will be begging for our Veterans to join their outfits. RallyPoint operates to increase that understanding.
About the author:
Lieutenant General (Ret.) Ben Freakley is the Special Adviser to the President for Leadership Initiatives at Arizona State University. During his 36 years on active duty in the US Army, Ben’s most notable assignments included: Commanding General of US Army Accessions Command, Commanding General of 10th Mountain Division, Commanding General of the US Army Infantry Center and Commandant at the US Army Infantry School, and Assistant Division Commander of the 101st Airborne Division. He is an advisor to RallyPoint.
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