It's a sad reality. Many U.S. military men and women risk life and limb in war zones, acquire superb technical, leadership and other skills along the way, then return home only to face chronic unemployment.
Young war veterans have a higher unemployment rate than their peers who did not serve in the military. By one estimate, as of May 2011 the rate of unemployment for young male Gulf War vets was more than three times that of their non-veteran counterparts, at nearly 27 percent. Some 1.6 million Armed Forces personnel are expected to transition into civilian life by 2014.
The challenges young vets face have been well documented, from PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) to homelessness, depression, drugs, alcoholism and even suicide. Even vets who are free of physical and mental health issues often find it hard to settle into a civilian lifestyle, and oftentimes their roles, skills and military training don't easily map to the job descriptions posted by American employers.
"There's a huge gulf in terms of the two cultures," says Michael Veysey, who oversees Cisco's veterans' programs with the mission of leveraging the company's networking technology to help vets find career and educational opportunities that match their skills.
A Cloud-Based Pipeline
To address the education and employment issues facing vets, Cisco has partnered for several years with Durham, N.C.-based Futures Inc., which started out as a nonprofit that specialized in matching kids with career paths via a "talent optimization engine" called Pipeline. About seven years ago, Futures ran a pilot program to help injured service members, aka "wounded warriors," transition to civilian life.
"It worked like a charm, so we never turned it off," says Futures founder and CEO Geoff Cramer.
In a nutshell, Pipeline is a cloud-based talent management platform that helps veterans and service members who are transitioning out of the military to understand how their military skills map to civilian jobs. Futures later adapted Pipeline for Reserve service members, creating a customized website called "Hero 2 Hired" (www.h2h.jobs). Reservists who navigate to the site can plug in their military job code or specialty, specify where they want to work, build their résumé and so on, and the site will return jobs in that location that match their skills. The site aggregates and is continually updated with job and training information from across the country, and can push new matches to a user's smartphone.
"It's now the fastest-growing employment site for the Department of Defense," Cramer says.
Veysey says Cisco chose to work with Futures because their technology was the best in its field. "We wanted to replicate what they were doing across all the services and Veteran Service Organizations," he says. That process has already started: Veysey says Cisco and Futures just launched a customized version of Pipeline for IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America). "Other Veteran Service Organizations can contract with Futures for their own customized portal," he says.
The two companies have made significant strides together in other areas, too. For example, both Cisco and Futures are members of the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a collective commitment by a coalition of mostly Fortune 500 companies to hire 100,000 veterans by 2020. Veysey says the coalition has grown from an initial 12 members to 82 partners and, over the 18 months ending Sept. 30, had already hired over 28,000 vets.
One of the hires under the mission is Kelly Allen, 29, whose U.S. Navy career was cut short due to an injury. A former senior data analyst with no four-year degree, she says she approached the civilian job market with trepidation, sending out résumé after résumé with no success.
"I was fearful and kind of depressed," Allen recalls.
Then, last August, she heard about a 100,000 Jobs Mission hiring event at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. She drove seven hours in pouring rain to attend the event, and her determination paid off. Allen was hired as a network engineer by Cisco. She starts Nov. 12. "It was awesome," she says.
A Presidential Pilot
Both Cisco and Futures are also playing key roles in a soon-to-be-announced pilot with the White House aimed at matching transitioning military with high-demand IT jobs. Cisco is taking the lead in rallying the IT sector behind the initiative, known as the President's IT Training and Certification Pilot. It's also providing Cisco WebEx collaboration technology to allow service members to take part in virtual interviews, and leveraging its partner network to provide educational, training and job opportunities. As part of the initiative, through tuition assistance and the GI Bill, veterans can enroll in the Cisco Networking Academy program, a gateway to entry-level IT jobs.
For its part, Futures is providing its Pipeline technology to help match job seekers with employers, as well as supporting the virtual career coaching and fast track credentialing process for 1,000 job seekers.
Jobs Fair 2.0
With some help from Cisco, Futures has also revolutionized the jobs fair experience through its Army hiring event pilot. Veysey says there are hundreds of traditional career fairs for vets every year across the United States.
"But it's a cattle call," he says. "People come in, they're all spruced up, they leave their résumé and it goes into black hole. A lot of employers don't really see a return on their investment for participating in these events."
In contrast, Futures ran three pilots at Army bases in Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Sill, Okla.; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. to test a new model of hiring events with a virtual component. Instead of vets showing up cold on the day, they were notified several weeks before the job fairs and directed to register and fill out a profile on the h2h.jobs site. On the event day itself, the pre-matched vets were directed to specific employers, with many of them taking part in virtual interviews with hiring managers thousands of miles away over Cisco WebEx technology provided by Cisco.
Veysey says that, out of 954 vets who registered for the three events, 127 received job offers at the event, with an additional 180 expected to follow. "According to the Army, these are the most successful hiring events they've ever had," he says.
Matching Supply and Demand
Veysey says there's still much to accomplish, particularly in the health care arena (Cisco's veterans' programs have three pillars—employment, education and health care, he says). But the potential to help more vets is immense, with Futures now building the first global employment platform for the Armed Forces, starting with the U.S. Marines.
In many cases, young veterans joined the military straight out of high school without a two-year or four-year degree. But, Cramer says, many of them have amazing skill sets, leadership skills and discipline that would make them an asset in industries as varied as health care, logistics, IT, communications, energy, advanced manufacturing and automotive, to name a few. It's all just a matter of connecting demand with supply, Cramer says.
"These guys shouldn't be cooking French fries," he says.
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