As members of the military stream back into a weak job market following the pullout of troops in Iraq and the reduction of forces in Afghanistan, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce is launching an initiative to help veterans find jobs and employers find the skilled workers they increasingly need as the economy improves.
The program, called “Boots to Business,” aims to educate local businesses about the wide array of skills veterans develop in the military and to expand corporate networking and mentoring opportunities for former service members. The unemployment rate of veterans who served after 9/11 is nearly 13 percent, well above the 8.2 percent national rate, according to the Labor Department.
“Talent is just critical to the growth of our economy and to the success of every business in Greater Boston,” said Jim Klocke, executive vice president at the chamber, who is overseeing the initiative. “What we have is a fantastic addition to the talent pool as veterans return to civilian life from active duty.”
The chamber’s program is part of a groundswell of employment support for veterans in recent months. In November, a federal law was enacted to award tax credits to businesses that hire veterans, and the Obama administration beefed up career services for veterans.
In Massachusetts, the Patrick administration created a task force on hiring veterans, designated $700,000 in state funds to train and employ veterans, and launched networking events for employers to share information about hiring veterans.
More than 13,000 veterans have used the state’s career centers in the past 12 months, and the number of recently discharged veterans seeking help with their job search has increased 13 percent from the previous year, according to state career services officials.
“As the number of recently separated veterans has increased and there’s a lot of awareness of the sacrifice that veterans made for all of us in the recent, current wars,” said Joanne Goldstein, the state’s secretary of labor and workforce development, “I think there’s been an increased recognition of our responsibility to help them find job placement in civilian life.”
The chamber is partnering with the state on the program, inviting veterans who have registered at career centers and community colleges to participate in networking and corporate mentoring events. The chamber is also looking into creating an online service where veterans can connect with mentors.
Many hiring managers are aware of the leadership, discipline, and attention to detail that military personnel are known for, but fewer are aware of the technical skills in areas such as cybersecurity and information technology that today’s military requires, said Coleman Nee, the state’s secretary of veterans services.
Starting with the July 12 kickoff event at the Boston Harbor Hotel that will include business executives, veterans, and state officials, the chamber is encouraging local companies to reach out to veterans.
One of the veterans attending the kickoff event is Jason Phelps, who was laid off in January from his job in Pittsfield, where he worked with troubled teens. When Phelps got out of the Navy in 2004, it took him six weeks and one application to find work as a personal trainer in Seattle. But this year, after six months and more than 100 applications, the 30-year-old Adams resident is still looking for a job, despite having earned a bachelor’s degree last year.
“Two thousand four in America is way different than 2012,” said Phelps, who moved back to Massachusetts in 2009 and just finished a stint with the National Guard.
Accenture, the global management consulting firm, plans to participate in the initiative. Accenture has a significant number of veterans among its 249,000 employees, and a mentoring program in place for veterans, said Peter Schnorr, a Boston-based senior manager and former Navy pilot.
One of the many assets that veterans possess is the ability to communicate quickly, clearly, and effectively up and down the chain of command, said Schnorr, because that’s what they had to do in the military.
“Military veterans have a unique ability to recognize how to communicate short, succinct messages,” said Schnorr. “A lot of people nowadays, you can ramble on and on. Verbosity is not something that’s really a value in what we do.”
Businesses can register for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event at bostonchamber.com. Veterans can sign up by contacting Beth Costa at firstname.lastname@example.org.