Conquering the Skills Gap in the Region with Veteran Employment

Originally posted on March 4, 2024 by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce

There is a massive skills gap in America, with a significant number of the 10 million unfilled jobs in our country going vacant – right here in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. With these challenges, come unique opportunities for companies to brand themselves as employers that, not only understand the employment landscape, but also the macro and micro factors that impact career decisions made by Veterans and military spouses – who are a strong source of talent and own thousands of small businesses in our Region.

Veteran unemployment rates sit at historic lows – averaging less than 3% in 2023 for the first time in 20 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This has proven to be a consistent trend since 2016, with Veterans enjoying lower rates of unemployment than civilians, month after month, for a vast majority of the past eight years.

There are 160,000 Veterans transitioning out of the military each year, and hundreds of thousands more, who have transitioned to the private sector over the past 5-10 years – that are underemployed and looking for new opportunities. This is evidenced in the fact that younger Veterans, under the age of 24, typically hold three jobs during their first three years post-transition. Employers that are facing skills gaps have unprecedented opportunities to tap into this resource. With the Region being home to hundreds of thousands of military-connected families, the opportunities for companies to attract and retain Veterans and military spouses continue to grow.

In a tight labor market, however, marketing your company as “military friendly”, “military ready”, or hanging a sign outside your storefront saying, “we hire Veterans” isn’t good enough. Northern Virginia companies that want to compete and win the war for military talent must go a step beyond “friendliness” and “readiness” to create a culture that is, “Military Thriving”.

A Military Thriving culture is achievable when military talent is empowered to utilize the ethos of leadership, teamwork, and purpose that was instilled in them during their military service to propel themselves, their company, and their community to new heights.

Here are actionable steps that your business can take to attract and retain hundreds of thousands of Veterans and military spouses looking for meaningful employment in the DMV:

Develop pathways for them to grow professionally

Hiring Veterans and military spouses is a good first step. Building a culture that recognizes and values the unique leadership and technical experiences that Veterans and military spouses bring to the workplace will retain them for the long haul. Discoveries and successes with these pathways may apply to other diverse communities in ways that make corporate cultures stronger, enterprise-wide.

Provide opportunities for them to find purpose and feel a part of a connected community

Defining and refining existing CSR strategies, to enhance community impact and employee engagement opportunities, is critically important. By connecting with best-in-class nonprofits dedicated to military and veteran causes and allowing members of your Veteran Employee Resource Group to volunteer in meaningful ways, you will help them find purpose through continued service in the local community.

Tell their story in a powerful way

If you hire and value military talent, support their efforts to give back in a hands-on way to the causes they believe in; and shout both from the rooftops – you will not only lower recruiting and retention costs, but you will sell more products and services to the military-affiliated consumer – that accounts for 2.1 Trillion in our economy each year.

Companies that go beyond “Military Friendly” or “Ready” and integrate the three pillars of Talent, Impact, and Storytelling will gain again a competitive advantage in a very crowded space. A Military Thriving culture that values and celebrates military families, will win the war for talent, will amplify the company’s brand, and revenue growth will be achieved.

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