Veteran Unemployment with Nathan Smith

"Unfortunately, a million veterans are still unemployed or underemployed, so there’s still a lot of work to be done."

National National

The veteran unemployment rate is below 5 percent, indicating an improvement in the job market.  A discussion on Hire Heroes USA and a personalized approach to ensuring that veterans attain jobs and smoothly transition from service to civilian life.  With Nathan Smith, C.E.O. of Hire Heroes USA.

Visit Hire Heroes USA on the web, on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

Interview recorded on October 21, 2016.  Read a transcript of of this interview below:

Traynham:  The veteran unemployment rate is below 5%, indicating an improvement in the job market and the hard work of programs focused on getting our vets hired. One nonprofit called Hire Heroes USA is leading the charge for veteran employment. Today, well learn their recipe for job-placement success. Hello everyone, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham, and joining me is Nathan Smith. Hes the Chief Operating Officer for Hire Heroes USA. Nathan, welcome to the program.

Smith: Thanks for having me.

Traynham: So, I said it, and I need to say it again. Clearly, you have a recipe for success in making sure that our veterans get the jobs and transition from service to civilian life. How do you do it?

Smith: Well Hire Heroes approach is a personal one. Over the past about 6 years, weve helped more than 12,000 veterans get jobs, and we do it by individually assigning them to some of our team members and then holding those team members accountable for the results. So again, its a very personalized approach, and its the only way that we know how to achieve that success.

Traynham: Nathan, it sounds like a culture of accountability, and it also sounds like a culture where you have a zero fail rate here. You want to make sure that every single person who wants a job gets a job. -Is that accurate? –

Smith: Absolutely. This is a very personal mission for me. I was a Marine infantry officer for 7 years, did two tours in Iraq, had a number of Marines killed under my command. They didn’t get that opportunity to ever leave the service, to ever come back to the United States and live the American dream. We do have that opportunity with millions of veterans that are out there. Unfortunately, a million veterans are still unemployed or underemployed, so theres still a lot of work to be done.

Traynham: Lets talk for a few moments about the veterans that do not get the job offer. Is there a common thread or common theme as to why that does not happen, in your experience?

Smith: There are as many reasons as there are people who dont have jobs. I would say a couple threads are related to the inability to talk about their military experience in a way that a civilian hiring manager would find understandable and attractive, so its really an educational issue. An educational issue is something that we can fix. Theres no magic, theres no mystery here. Its simply taking people who have great experience and helping them to convey that in the way that a civilian hiring manager would want to understand.

Traynham: Nathan, my understanding is when a veteran applies for a job in the government, federal government, in this case, they get preferential treatment as it relates to not necessarily getting the job, but at least being considered for the job. Thats a good thing in some ways, but I can also see the argument thats not a good thing in other ways. Whats the feedback that youve received from employers that see that type of practice?

Smith: Preferential treatment, we think, is a good thing in general. We do think veterans should have those opportunities presented to them. On the flip side of that, its a negative when someone is not a good fit for the job, not just government jobs, but any job. There are a lot of initiatives out there in corporate America and government to hire veterans. Again, its a good thing. But sometimes, that incentivize employers to hire a veteran just because theyre a veteran. Our approach is different. We help the veterans identify the job thats going to be a best fit for them, for their skill sets, for their salary need, and what they can do to support their families. That means theyre likely to stay employed longer. In fact, veterans that go through our system have half the first-year attrition rate as veterans who dont. We dont want veterans to get pushed into jobs because of preferential treatment, and then, if theyre not the best fit, damage the reputation of other veterans out there that might have been a better fit for that position.

Traynham: Speaking of good fits, 2 out of 3 in my understanding get job placement. In other words, your success rate is fairly high. Talk about that recipe for success. What does that look like, and how do you achieve that beyond the accountability that we talked about a few moments ago?

Smith: Certainly. We believe that shoulder-to-shoulder is the best way to do this. Theres no website, theres no algorithm, theres no online system that is going to work for everybody. There are some good websites out there. There are some good tools. But what we believe is taking a person and assign them to another person who can break down barriers, get them comfortable, help them develop the tools, techniques, to effectively job search, that is what leads to long-term success. And then making sure that the person who is working with the job seeker is held accountable for the results. So not just feelings, not just, “Do you feel better about your job search?” But actually did this person get a job? That is the key.

Traynham: Last question. My understanding is that you also served in the military, and you have said repeatedly that serving in the military has been the honor of your life. What motivates you? Why do you do this work? Walk us through your thought process.

Smith: It is very personal for me. For 7 years, I was an infantry officer, went to Iraq two times, had dozens and dozens of Marines serving with me, serving under me. I was in some very difficult circumstances there. When I came back with a college degree, the title of Marine Officer, 7 years of leadership experience, my transition was still difficult. I lost almost 10 pounds in my last year in the service. I never lost weight going to combat. It was less worrisome for me to go to war than it was to try to go out and find a job. If thats the experience that I had, I have to wonder what the experience is of my junior enlisted Marines. And not just junior enlisted Marines, but people throughout the military as theyre transitioning out of one culture and into another one. Doesnt mean theyre not going to be successful, but they can sometimes use a little bit of help.

Traynham: Nathan Smith, we have to end it there. -Really appreciate your service. –

Smith:  Thank you very much, Robert.

Traynham: And thank you for joining us for this edition of “Comcast Newsmakers.” Im Robert Traynham. Have a great day. Well see you next time.