News June 6, 2017

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Opinion: Creating career opportunities for veterans strengthens businesses

Read the original article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Every minute of every day, we all benefit from the work of our military. As much as we admire and respect the contributions of our men and women in uniform, we can never do enough to demonstrate our gratitude for their sacrifices. These men and women have the experience and fortitude to contribute greatly to our country, including our businesses, after they leave military service.

After serving 33 years in uniform, I can say without question that the experiences I gained from my military training — leadership skills, the capacity to perform at a high level under pressure, the ability to work collaboratively within teams — would be difficult to replicate elsewhere. Later in my career, I was privileged to serve at the U.S. Department of Defense where I was responsible for recruiting, training and overseeing benefit programs for millions of active duty and reserve military personnel. It was there that I earned a true appreciation for what it takes to build, strengthen and motivate the workforce of one of the most important organizations in our country, the U.S. military.

The men and women who serve our nation come from all backgrounds and are some of our best and brightest — called to service by a mission they view as greater than themselves. Their contributions shouldn’t stop with their active service, and the private sector would do well to follow the example of the military as they look to strengthen their own teams.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans who have served since September 2001 is 5.1 percent. That’s only slightly higher than the overall national rate, but veterans’ unemployment has been a chronic economic issue in this country for decades. Today, many veterans continue to face barriers to finding steady, well- paying jobs with benefits.

Not only does this mean these highly skilled patriots and their families are struggling, it also means American companies and their customers are missing an opportunity to reap the benefits created by a more diverse workforce, representing a greater variety of experiences and skills. American companies could be doing more to leverage the many different skills and backgrounds of military veterans, and ignoring this opportunity does a disservice to customers and their communities.

Many U.S. companies are taking steps to diversify their workforce and support veterans in particular. Charter Communications, which employs over 11,500 veterans, joined Gov. Eric Greitens — himself a decorated veteran — at an event at its state-of-the-art technical training center in St. Ann this week to announce its plans to expand its existing Broadband Technician Apprenticeship program from five states to a nationwide footprint. Our intent is to increase enrollment by 20 percent in the next two years. Veterans enrolled in Charter’s apprenticeship program are able to collect tax-free GI Bill benefits for up to four years, in addition to their regular pay. Given Charter’s large footprint in Missouri, and Missouri’s large military population, the state stands to benefit significantly from this announcement.

Charter is also expanding its partnerships with some of the largest U.S. military bases across the country to better recruit, train and support military personnel looking for full-time positions. This will help create a pipeline for the apprenticeship program and new career opportunities for more veterans.

Given their military experience and mission-oriented mindset, veterans bring varying perspectives to the job that help improve efficiency and the quality of products and services for the benefit of customers. I am confident that if given the opportunity, there are plenty of veterans out there who will meet and exceed the challenge.

More American companies should follow Charter’s example. Not only will veterans and their families benefit, but it will also benefit the companies who make the effort.

Clifford L. Stanley is a retired major general of the Marine Corps who formerly served as the United States undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. He currently is CEO of the EGA Group, and is a member of Charter Communications’ External Diversity and Inclusion Council.