The business community and Wall Street have come together to help America’s veterans. Thursday marked the first annual Veterans on Wall Street Conference, an event thrown to raise awareness of the value of veterans in the workforce. Twelve hundred veterans and their spouses turned out to New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum to meet with potential employers, network and learn job skills to help transition back into civilian life.
The event was coordinated and funded by Bank of America , Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs . It comes one day after President Obama announced the gradual withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. With the return of thousands of troops comes the difficult task of finding a job in an economic climate with more than 9 percent unemployment.
“Our goal is to bring awareness about veterans as a tremendous employment pool and potential talent that is unique,” says Suni Harford, managing director and regional head of markets for North America at Citigroup and member of Veterans on Wall Street.
"The military is... about building a team to accomplish a mission and that’s what business needs. "
“Corporate America owes our vets some support when they come back but the reality is it is win-win,” says Harford. “It’s good business, your talent pool is better, and it’s better for the bottom line.”
When soldiers return home there are many hurdles to overcome, but one of the biggest is securing employment. Among young male veterans aged 18-24 who have served since September 2001, more than 21 percent were unemployed in 2010, according to the Department of Labor.
“Ninety percent of the time they don’t think about what they are doing next...just where they are going,” says Kevin Schmiegel, a 20-year marine veteran and now vice president in the Executive Office of the Chamber of Commerce.
Schmiegel has made it his personal mission and was tapped by the Chamber of Commerce to help connect veterans with potential employers through 100 hiring fairs across the country. At their first event in Chicago, 125 employers and 1,200 veterans showed up, and 200 of them landed jobs through the fair.
“I don’t see this as charity work, I see this as identifying a segment of the population that adds value to an organization,” says Christopher Perkins, a former captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and now head of Citibank's Derivatives Intermediation and Clearing in the Americas.
So what can a veteran offer to your business? “They know how to operate under stress, and they know how to operate under long hours efficiently,” says Marsh Carter, a former Marine Corp officer during the Vietnam War who now serves as Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange group.
Carter says one of the most valuable assets that makes veterans stand out is their selflessness. “The military is not about individual achievement at all. It’s about building a team to accomplish a mission and that’s what business needs.”