The BPC hosted an expert panel Tuesday to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing veterans as they transition back to the work force. The event, “Training Tomorrow’s Workers Today: How the Right Investments Can Make a Difference,” brought together panelists from a variety of backgrounds, including Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) Chairman and CEO Tony Earley and former National Security Advisor and BPC Senior Fellow General (ret.) James L. Jones, as well as other experts from the public and private sector. The panel focused primarily on challenges facing both veterans returning to work and employers seeking to hire them, and what steps should be taken by the private sector and the government to create an efficient and robust environment for connecting skilled veterans with potential employers.
BPC President Jason Grumet opened the discussion, noting that the panel brought a wide range of practical experience in the field that could offer valuable lessons to policymakers on how to address this issue. He also highlighted some of the primary challenges in workforce development today, such as the disparity between skills and opportunities and determining the effectiveness of government investments in workforce training. He concluded by emphasizing the importance of determining training and hiring best practices, both for veterans and the American workforce as a whole.
The panel was moderated by former CNN correspondent and author of Rising from Katrina Kathleen Koch.
Equipping Veterans with Knowledge and Skills to Compete
PG&E Chairman and CEO Tony Earley discussed how partnerships between business and education are critical to speeding up the hiring process and ensuring the industry’s labor demand is met. He noted the success PG&E has had with its PowerPathway Training Network, which brings together community colleges, non-profit workforce development centers, unions and other industry employers to create a pipeline for bringing skilled workers into the workforce. Started four years ago, the program has been successful in helping veterans acquire skills and find employment, at PG&E and elsewhere. Speaking as the head of a utility and a veteran, Earley emphasized the added value veterans bring to the workplace in terms of the responsibility, hard work and loyalty they acquired while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
General (ret.) Jim Jones underscored the systemic issues facing veterans in transition, both in terms of connecting employers to veterans looking for work and beginning the search process before they leave service, noting it is much easier to reach out at that point. He also echoed the sentiments of other panelists in highlighting how the demand of skilled labor outweighs the current supply of workers. He argued this represents a strong opportunity to employ the increasingly large number of veterans transitioning out of the armed forces every year.
Connecting Veterans with Employers
Kevin Schmiegal, Vice President at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Executive Director of the Hiring Our Heroes program, also stressed the importance of connecting veterans directly to employers, especially at the local level. Through the Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program, veterans and local employers are able to meet through a community driven effort. The program has held 172 hiring fairs in 14 months, offering employers opportunities to hire veterans from their local area. Beyond this initiative, Schmiegal explained that veterans need a critical path to take, both in terms of acquiring additional skills and determining where demand for their work can be found.
The panel also featured Emily DeRocco, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training and former President of the Manufacturing Institute, at the National Association of Manufacturers. She agreed that tailoring training and hiring efforts to specific regions is a good approach. In addition, she said more could be done by both the public and private sectors to make hiring veterans an easier prospect, such as partnering with staffing agencies to ensure a reservist who is called up for deployment does not disrupt the company’s activities, and they can resume their position once they return.
Sean Cartwright, Chief of Staff of the Employment and Training Administration at the Department of Labor, also participated in the panel. He too saw the benefit of local involvement, particularly in local workforce development boards that can provide funding in a targeted manner. He highlighted the power of the internet to connect veterans to jobs, using MyNextMove.org as an example of how public-private partnerships can be effective in increasing access and knowledge.
All of the panelists brought different ideas and evidence about how to smooth the transition and increase employment for veterans, but they also acknowledged the difficulties facing the American workforce, as thousands of skilled workers become eligible to retire and many veterans transition out of active duty and into civilian life.