Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week unveiled a budget that would, among other things, cut at least 80,000 soldiers from the Army -- reducing it to the smallest size since before World War II.
The news was startling, especially since force reduction is already well under way across all of the military branches. At its post-9/11 wartime peak, the Army fielded 570,000 soldiers -- compared to 520,000 now.
Ousting tens of thousands of service members is, at first glance, alarming and distressing -- especially for those troops suddenly facing the prospects of finding a job to support their families.
While I would never advocate the weakening of the military to the point where it puts the safety of our nation in jeopardy, budget constraints are the new reality for decision-makers. That means those who are being forced out will be up nights wondering about their future.
There's a positive side, however, to this downsizing -- the proverbial silver lining. The influx of service members forced to transition to the civilian workforce is a big win for corporate America.
Let me explain. The U.S. military has long represented a renewable pool of talent for companies both large and small, and a growing number of private-sector employers are investing considerable time and money to recruit military talent. These young men and women are highly trained in the latest technology and taught to work as disciplined, mission-focused teams under adverse and often dangerous conditions. They're also taught to adapt when the plan goes awry. They're physically fit, motivated and quick to learn new jobs and responsibilities -- a given for most military members. America's service men and women, often at a ridiculously young age, are responsible for other people's lives and millions of dollars of equipment. What about that package wouldn't make your average corporate recruiter or small business owner drool?
This week energy company executives asked a congressional subcommittee to help them connect military veterans with tens of thousands of high-paying jobs in their industry, which has experienced a 40 percent increase in jobs since the Great Recession.
"The disconnect is in [them] knowing where to seek out opportunity," Douglas Smith, president of Little Red Services Inc., an Alaska-based oil industry company, told the committee.
A recent survey of U.S. manufacturers showed that 80 percent couldn't find skilled workers to fill thousands of high-paying production jobs. These and other companies lament the lack of American workers educated and trained for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) jobs. Meanwhile, it's estimated that 87 percent of military jobs fit the STEM definition. The stream of service members at the business end of Uncle Sam's boots is filled with STEM-ready workers. Others can be quickly trained for these jobs and can be contributing to the bottom line in a matter of weeks, even days.
This is a golden opportunity for corporate America, not to mention the nation's mid-size and small businesses. So to those employers who are not already vigorously recruiting this valuable American resource, we ask, "Why not?"
To quote Joe Robles, CEO and chairman of USAA, a financial services company where more than 25 percent of the 24,000 employees are veterans or military spouses:
"What are you waiting for? You don't understand the value. If you hire a couple of veterans and give them some responsible jobs, give them a little time to acclimate to the company and understand how things work from a cultural point of view, you're going to be rewarded beyond your wildest expectations."
For those service members suddenly facing a one-way ticket back to Hometown USA, we say, "Sleep well, Soldier." You're going to be fine. Plenty of employers recognize your value, and you will excel once you're in the civilian workforce. Embrace your military experience and training, and get ready to kick some booty on the civilian side.