The Changing Landscape of Veteran Employment Programs


Nov 10, 2015

Hundreds of veterans and 115 companies attend a military job fair in San Francisco, California, August 25, 2015

Hundreds of veterans and 115 companies attend a military job fair in San Francisco, California, August 25, 2015

Photo by Robert Galbraith/Reuters

With the influx of military veterans into the civilian workforce, the ultimate goal of veteran employment efforts is shifting. The focus has broadened from simply trying to help veterans land a job after leaving the military to attempting to give them the tools they need to thrive in their post-military careers.

In recent years, federal agencies and private-sector companies have put in place dozens of programs to help veterans transition from military service to the civilian workforce. One such effort is the Service Member Transition Summits, essentially supercharged job fairs that are held at local military installations. Spearheaded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with government agencies and private companies, the summits give service members the opportunity to engage with experts about resources and best practices for job-seeking strategies. In addition to taking part in a traditional job fair, attendees also can participate in employment workshops that might cover resume writing or entrepreneurship, and informally network with potential employers at a reception.

Underway for only a year, the summits are trying to improve and broaden veteran employment opportunities by emphasizing collaboration between federal agencies and private businesses. For example, partnerships between the Department of Energy and the solar industry highlight opportunities in solar technology, a fast-growing field of employment. At a recent Transition Summit at Fort Drum, New York, Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, Senior Enlisted Advisor to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed a gymnasium of more than 1,000 service members transitioning to civilian life. He told them that the U.S. military would most likely be the only employer they would ever have that is willing to invest on such a large scale to help them transition to their next career.

Despite this demonstrated commitment to veteran employment, challenges remain in identifying the most effective next steps in serving the veteran community. To address them, RAND hosted two roundtable discussions, in May and October, that brought together key representatives from federal agencies, private companies, and research organizations to share ideas about improving veteran employment opportunities. These discussions revealed that efforts to help veterans find employment are moving in new directions.

For example:

  • The emphasis has shifted away from creating new programs. Instead, interagency coordination is seen as the key to maximizing the benefits of existing programs. Better collaboration and information-sharing across entities—public and private—should help these programs become more effective.
  • Hiring veterans is not regarded as a charitable endeavor. It is good for business. As veterans become increasingly aware of private-sector opportunities, companies are seeing the need to sell themselves—to communicate what their industry has to offer potential veteran employees.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution for helping veterans secure employment. A young enlisted soldier in the combat arms profession is likely to have different civilian career goals than an experienced logistics officer—and will require different types of support to reach those goals. Veteran employment efforts should be similarly diverse.

To assess these things, data that track veterans' career paths over time is needed. To understand trends in veteran employment, data must be collected on such factors as gender, race/ethnicity, military career field, and period and length of military service. In turn, this information will help policymakers tailor and adjust programs to target obvious needs or gaps in career assistance efforts. This same information should be useful to the private sector as well—for companies to remain committed to hiring veterans, the value veterans bring to the workplace needs to be demonstrated through empirical evidence.

As employment assistance changes to meet the needs of veterans, so must the research that goes hand in hand to support and strengthen those critical efforts.

Kimberly Curry Hall is a policy analyst and Caroline Batka is a project associate at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

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