The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Labor announced a joint effort on Friday to assist members of the military transitioning to the civilian workplace, a difficult adjustment made harder by the sagging economy. One in five young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - many of whom served in both - are unemployed.
The partnership was announced at a press conference at the U.S. Chamber's headquarters in Washington, across the street from the White House. The project is a massive attempt at networking: State directors from DOL's Veterans' Employment and Training Service will connect, using the Chamber's network, with hundreds of employers and CEOs to pitch them on why and how to hire a veteran. "Yesterday, our employment representatives met with one employer at a time," assistant secretary for veterans' employment and training Ray Jefferson told HuffPost Friday. "Today, thanks to the launch of this pilot, we will be able to meet with hundreds of employers at once."
The project will focus on 14 states and build on an ongoing collaboration to encourage the hiring of disabled vets. The DOL is statutorily obligated to assist vets in finding work.
Lt. Col. Christian Johnson, a fellow at the U.S. Chamber, is spearheading the vets program for the business organization. "When you think about it, there's no other labor force, if you will, that comes with the experience that veterans do, whether it's leadership, communication, working under stress. It doesn't get any better than that," he told HuffPost. "A lot of it is just helping educate employers out there."
The alliance is an unusual one: The Chamber has promised to spend tens of millions of dollars in 2010 to defeat Democratic candidates in the midterms and the White House has been harshly critical of the Chamber for working with Republicans to block its agenda in Congress. The two haven't cooperated in a major way since the stimulus passed in the first weeks of the administration. A Labor Department aide said that the government will work directly with state and local chambers of commerce, which are less politically charged than the national organization.
The public sector currently pulls much of the weight when it comes to hiring vets. According to DOL data, nearly 1 in 3 vets with a service-connected disability worked in the public sector; 1 in 5 is employed by the federal government.
Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth Harris said that finding work for vets is the least the nation can do. "They put themselves in harm's way for us. Now it's our turn to fight for them," said Harris. "When our young men and women return from serving their country, their country must stand ready to serve them in return. With this program, the Department of Labor and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are partnering to do just that."