To Thank Veterans, Help Them Build Civilian Careers

Recognize not only their service but their potential, by training them for fulfilling professions.


To Thank Veterans, Help Them Build Civilian Careers

Every year as Veterans Day approaches, Americans ask themselves how they might best show their respect and appreciation for those who have served the nation in uniform. That question has taken on ever greater importance as the wars of the post-9/11 period continue, and as Afghanistan has become the longest war in U.S. history.

Veterans deeply appreciate the near-universal support they and their families receive, even from Americans who disagree with the policies that sent them to war. They are grateful for recognition at public events and for being told, “Thank you for your service.” Veterans also appreciate tangible initiatives like the GI Bill, expanded Veterans Administration services, and the Yellow Ribbon Program at many colleges.

Nothing, however, is more important to veterans who are making the transition from military service to civilian life than a job. 

Most employers recognize that hiring veterans is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business. Veterans bring to their firms extraordinary experiences in challenging endeavors. Those who have worn the uniform know what it’s like to perform difficult missions—often literally under fire—against determined, frequently barbaric enemies in the most challenging terrain and weather conditions imaginable. Business leaders know that veterans have learned teamwork, discipline, initiative and adaptability in the face of unexpected circumstances. Veterans can be counted on to lead, direct, inspire and organize those for whom they are responsible.

The attributes veterans bring to the workplace are now more highly prized than ever. That is reflected in the veterans’ unemployment rate, which is now well below the national unemployment rate and the lowest it’s been in 17 years.

Yet that only tells part of the story. Most veterans seek not just a job, but a fulfilling career that gives them a chance to apply the skills and experience they gained during their military service. Such opportunities are not always offered; indeed, at present 43% of veterans leave their first civilian job during the first year, and 80% leave before the end of the second year. When asked why, they often cite limited opportunities for career advancement and personal development.

So what can employers do to provide careers, not just jobs? They can begin by investing in veterans by providing job-skill training, education, mentoring and support. Such investment can help veterans be all that they can be in the civilian workforce.

At KKR , our Vets@Work program encourages our portfolio companies to pursue initiatives going well beyond recruiting and job placement, striving instead to create career opportunities for veterans. The resources in our tool kit also help civilian managers understand how to get the most out of a veteran’s skills and experience. Since 2011 our portfolio companies have hired more than 50,000 veterans and military spouses for a variety of roles across numerous industries, a significant milestone for us as well as an inspiration for continued growth.

Merely hiring a veteran is not enough. America’s employers can best serve our veterans—and their own businesses—by adopting proven practices that help former soldiers establish productive careers. Our veterans have given years of their lives to the defense of our country. We honor them by recognizing not just their past service but their future potential, by investing in them, and striving to provide not just a job that pays the bills, but a fulfilling profession.

Mr. Petraeus, a retired U.S. Army general, commanded coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. Central Command. He is now a partner in the global investment firm KKR and Chairman of the KKR Vets@Work initiative.

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