The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Retired colonel puts vets to work through Hiring Our Heroes program
By RUSTY DENNEN
As a senior staffer with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009, Kevin Schmiegel often talked with key business leaders during his travels around the country. One recurring theme caught the retired Marine lieutenant colonel’s ear.
Schmiegel, 45, who lives in Falmouth in Stafford County, said that when they learned of his military service, CEOs asked how they could hire more veterans. Schmiegel figured the chamber could help, and last spring, Hiring Our Heroes was born.
“I saw this problem, especially for younger vets in their search for employment, that the chamber could play a lead role on,” he said in a telephone interview. During his final year in the Marines, Schmiegel was in charge of assignments for enlisted personnel.
The first Hiring Our Heroes job fair was held last March in Chicago. The first-year goal was 100 fairs; there have been just over 230 to date. More than 10,400 veterans and their spouses have found jobs through the program, the chamber says.
The fairs are free, and participating employers are required to have jobs available. One is scheduled Monday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at The Clubs at Quantico and Conference Center on Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Schmiegel said the 1,600 chambers in the local federation, other partner agencies such as the U.S. Department of Labor, along with veterans’ support agencies, help connect veterans and spouses with employers and jobs.
“What we were doing is going city to city, until we created a movement across the country,” he said.
In March, Hiring Our Heroes held a job fair on the USS Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York Harbor. The fair made a segment on the NBC’s “Today” show. At one last month in Los Angeles, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, were on hand.
Veterans do have a tough time finding jobs when they leave the service. The jobless rate last year for post-9/11 veterans was 12.1 percent; for those 24 and under, it was 29 percent.
“Those are both 50 percent higher than the national averages” for non-veterans, Schmiegel said.
In light of those numbers, “We learned a lot of lessons about the fact that we had to be more visible across the country, and in more communities.”
Veterans’ joblessness is even worse in many rural spots, with some areas approaching 30 percent. There, “We formed additional partnerships with nonprofits and veterans’ organizations” such as the American Legion, he said.
“You do this one city at a time and one veteran at a time.”
There are lots of organizations providing job services for veterans, “and I tell our staff to be as inclusive as possible,” Schmiegel said, in getting them involved locally.
“In a lot of ways, it can be confusing for veterans and military families because there are so many out there, trying to do good. If it’s not well-coordinated, it becomes tiresome” for those who need help.
The program is expanding its scope by asking military bases, such as Quantico, to provide access. That will help in connecting with troops transitioning from the military to civilian employment, Schmiegel said, “and to offer them opportunities early on in the process.”
Meanwhile, the program has formed a partnership with General Electric for résumé-writing and job coaching help. GE has about 10,000 veterans on its payroll. Schmiegel said another initiative will be announced at Quantico on Monday.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431