The unemployment rate for veterans has been decreasing since this time last year, and as of last month, was at 7.2 percent. Here in Virginia, 9.4 percent of young vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan can’t find jobs, and the number of people in the Commonwealth who have filed for unemployment benefits has more than doubled since 2002. Virginia Values Veterans (V3), a statewide government-funded initiative to incentivize companies to hire and retain men and women retired from the military, has connected 2,555 veterans to employers since the program’s creation last year. Sponsored by locally based company SHINE, V3 will host a conference here in Charlottesville on Wednesday, August 7, at UVA’s Darden School of Business.
“The first incentive is to recapitalize their workforce with the best employees,” said program founder and retired Lieutenant Colonel Joe Barto. “This is an economic development initiative, not a jobs program.”
V3 started out as VetStrong, a program founded by TMG—a small veteran-owned business with a mission to connect clients with employees and improve business performance—in 2002 to serve as a pipeline for veterans to private companies. Rebranded as V3 in 2012, it’s now a public-private partnership between the Virginia Department of Veteran Services and TMG. V3’s goals are to develop economic incentives for Virginia companies to hire vets, and to educate employers on how to do so.
“When we first put this program together, we found that so many vets were unemployed, yet there were so many companies that needed good people,” Barto said. “There was a huge supply and demand, so our question was, what’s the problem?”
Barto described V3 as being fundamentally different from other federal and state veteran employment programs because it focuses on influencing those making the hiring decisions.
“Most of the dollars spent around this problem have been on the vet side, teaching them how to find a job,” Barto said. “Our program is teaching companies how to attract, hire, and retain vets.”
SHINE Systems & Technologies, a Charlottesville-based government contracting company that specializes in identity intelligence, technology integration, intelligence analytics, and consulting services, was the first company to earn a silver certification from V3 last year when it hired more than 20 veterans. Now nearly 50 percent of SHINE’s 125 employees are from the military, the benefits of which owner Jeff Thomas said are two-fold.
“It’s a way for us to give back,” Thomas said. “But we also understand each other well. There’s not a lot of hand-holding when working with vets.”
Brian Kreiter, an Army sergeant major who retired in 1999 and has been working for SHINE since April, said the transition from military life into the civilian world isn’t an easy one. The general public is more supportive of soldiers than when he joined shortly after the Vietnam War, he said—he was spat on during a march in Seattle in the 1970s—but vets today still face discrimination from employers who worry about things like post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I don’t think those are legitimate fears,” Kreiter said. “Sure, some of them are troubled, but no more than others. There’s a certain amount of dedication that I don’t think is developed outside the military in quite the same way.”
Mary North, owner and business manager for Airflow Systems in Charlottesville, said she’ll be attending the training seminar at Darden next week to learn more about the benefits of hiring vets.
“We don’t have any veterans working for us now, but we have in the past,” North said. “We want to hire someone with that type of disciplined background.”
North isn’t a military vet, but her sister and brother-in-law are, so she said she’s seen secondhand the challenges of entering the business world after returning from active duty. They both had to come in at the ground level and take positions they were highly overqualified for, she said, but based on their ability to show up on time and be loyal to their companies, they moved up quickly.
“They’re such hard workers,” she said. “They just wanted the opportunity to show people what they know and have them not worry about them leaving the company.”
North will be representing one of more than 30 local and regional businesses at the training seminar next week. The event begins at 8am on Wednesday, August 7, at the Darden School of Business. It is free of charge, and includes a meal for all registered employers. Registration will remain open until the day before the event. Barto, who will be a keynote speaker, noted that the conference is an opportunity for employers to learn how to attract, find, hire, and retain veterans.