First Lady Michelle Obama announced yesterday that numerous technology and energy companies have committed to hire or train 90,000 veterans and military spouses in the next five years as part of the Joining Forces initiative.
Celebrating the fourth year of Joining Forces this month, the first lady spoke to an audience of veterans, family members, business owners and government leaders here at Micron Technologies, which produces memory-storage devices.
Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched Joining Forces in 2011 to honor and support service members, survivors, veterans, and their families, according to the initiative’s website.
Joining Forces began at a time when the unemployment rate was 12 percent for service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and one in three of the youngest veterans who sought work could not find jobs, Obama said.
“We issued a call to people all across the country,” the first lady said. “We challenged folks to ask themselves one simple question: ‘What can I do to honor these families who have given us so much?’ And we were overwhelmed by the response we received.”
Private Sector’s Contribution
Shortly after Joining Forces was launched, President Barack Obama also challenged the private sector to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses, the first lady said.
Now, less than four years later, “America's businesses have continued to race past my husband's initial goal, and together, those businesses who answered the president's call have hired or trained more than 850,000 veterans and military spouses,” she said.
Additionally, federal government hiring produced a workforce that now comprises 30 percent veterans, the first lady said.
By making a commitment to hire veterans and military spouses, such companies are shining examples of what’s possible, the she said.
Producing Results for Veterans, Spouses
“Altogether, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans has fallen by almost five points. And for those youngest veterans, it's been cut by almost half from its peak,” the first lady said.
As companies hired veterans and military spouses, they learned about the skill, character and resilience that “define our veterans and military spouses,” she said.
“Veterans and spouses were excelling in their companies … getting promotion after promotion and inspiring their colleagues with their talent and with their determination,” the first lady said.
During today’s announcement, the first lady pointed out that the technology and energy sectors are driving national economic growth. “These are industries full of good, high-paying positions where our vets can continue to thrive for years and even decades to come,” she said.
And because the solar industry is “adding jobs 10 times faster that the rest of the economy,” the first lady said, President Obama earlier this month announced “a significant expansion of our successful pilot program to train transitioning service members for careers in solar jobs.”
To make sure there's a job waiting for veterans when they leave the military, the Solar Energy Industries Association is pledging to hire or train 33,000 veterans and spouses over the next five years, she added.
Companies Commit To Training
“These companies know that many of the jobs they're hiring for require specialized training,” the first lady said. “So in many cases, they're not just hiring these veterans; they're actually partnering with a variety of educational institutions to create internships and apprenticeships and job-training programs.”
Micron is in a pilot program through the Northern Virginia Technology Council to match student veterans at local institutions of higher learning to 50 high-tech companies throughout the area, she said.
“Veterans get hands-on experience and the companies connect with a pipeline of top-notch talent,” the first lady said. That kind of win-win partnership is one of many across the country helping veterans and military spouses, she added.
Joining Forces: Long-term Commitment
While the first lady called her announcement an amazing accomplishment, she added that more work is required.
“And that includes connecting our vets not just with any job, but with good jobs -- jobs you can raise a family on, the kind of high-growth jobs of the future,” she said.
And today, Obama said she’s calling on all companies across the nation in every industry and of every size “to do their part to provide even more opportunities for our military families.”
The first lady added, “Keep asking yourselves that same question we posed four years ago: ‘What can I do to give back to our veterans and their families?’ Can you make a commitment, or another [one] to hire more veterans and military spouses? Can you partner with a local school or veterans service organization on job-training opportunities? There are so many ways you can make a difference, whether you're a multinational name-brand, or a startup that's just getting off the ground.”
The first lady praised the veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses in the audience.
“I can't thank you enough. This nation can't thank you enough for your service. What you do is rare. What you do is needed. What you do is special. And I want you to know that we're nowhere near the finish line,” she said. “Joining Forces is a long-term commitment to you and to your families, and we're going to do whatever we can to serve you as well as you've served us.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)