In honor of Veterans Day, we’re posting a Q&A with Ross Brown, director of military and veterans affairs at JPMorgan Chase, about a recently announced initiative by The Veterans Jobs Mission to hire a total of 1 million veterans over the next several-plus years. It’s ironic, given the training and leadership responsibilities so many of them have had, that U.S. veterans continue to suffer an unemployment rate that exceeds that of the general population. The VJM, a coalition of more than 200 companies representing all industry sectors, recently changed its name from the 100,000 Jobs Mission, with the goal of increasing the engagement and career development of vets in the private sector. Brown himself is a veteran, having spent 27 years as an officer in the Army after graduating with a bachelor of science degree from West Point. His tours of duty included Honduras and Iraq, where he commanded the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. At JPMorgan Chase, Brown’s role includes overseeing veterans employment and small business development. As you’ll read below, he’s a passionate advocate not only for veterans, but for the gifts they can bring to the workplace.
What sort of timeline are you looking at for hiring one million veterans?
Throughout the course of the conflicts of the last 12 to 14 years, we’ve routinely been transitioning about 200,000 veterans into civilian jobs from active duty. So I said to the coalition, that’s one million service members over the next five years. So we collectively decided to make that our goal — hire one million veterans — and, when we reach it, then let’s make it two million. We’re also looking to help the coalition have a greater impact by having an exchange of veterans — if, for example, a veteran applies for a job at AT&T, but they don’t have an opening for that person at the moment, they can alert Verizon, in order for that veteran to be hired.
How many veterans has JPMorgan Chase hired?
We’ve hired over 9,500 in recent years. They work in all sectors of our business. We have a three-tiered process for bringing vets into our organization. First, we have recruiters focused on former military members. Eighty percent of these recruiters have been in the military themselves, so they already understand what veterans offer and how to translate their experience into a skill we’re looking for as a firm. Then, once a vet has been hired, we have a sponsorship program that pairs them with a vet who’s been here for a while — that person helps the new hire navigate the organization. And third, we have a veterans business resource group, analogous to a fraternity or sorority, that sponsors events and activities so they can bond with people who share a common experience, commiserate with other vets.
What do vets tend to commiserate about?
First, let me highlight the characteristics that vets bring. The first is leadership. Given the conflicts we as a nation have been in, we have people even in the lowest levels of the military making important decisions. The second is a bias toward problem-solving: I know from personal experience that the challenges you face in the military are dynamic and ever-evolving and the answer is rarely found in a book. The third is teamwork: The military prides itself on being a team of teams. And then there’s character — these are people who volunteered to serve their country knowing full well they’d be sent into combat. And last, they have a bias toward getting things done. Now they find themselves transitioning to these different organizations where they may be a sole contributor rather than a member of a team. In many cases they’ve gone from being empowered to make decisions, even at the lowest level, to situations where they may have very little autonomy.
Another important thing to consider is that in the military, there’s typically a clear career path — an institutional construct for how you will advance, which schools you’ll need to attend, and so on. And there’s often less of that in civilian organizations, where there may not be that same kind of organizational infrastructure. So these are the challenges faced by vets in the civilian workplace, and that’s why being able to commiserate with others with a shared background helps them in that transition.
As a veteran yourself, what sort of qualities most appeal to you in an employer?
What’s important to me are shared values. If I hadn’t felt that the organizational values here at JPMorgan Chase were consistent with my own, then I wouldn’t have joined. Second, I have to feel that whatever business the organization is in, there has to be a commitment to excellence. What attracted me to this job was the opportunity to have a positive impact on peoples’ lives, on veterans’ lives.
Are there some common misperceptions about veterans that can get in the way of them finding work — for example, misconceptions about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder?
This is my perspective, and it’s borne out by statistics: For the majority of vets transitioning today, if they served in combat, they are strengthened by it. They’ve been strengthened by that experience. And that’s the bottom line.
What are the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of veterans finding good jobs?
There needs to be universal acknowledgement that vets are good for business and we need to continue creating pathways for them to be employed. It’s not that there’s no desire to hire them, but what’s the best way to acquire them.
What’s your advice to HR leaders who want their organizations to hire more veterans?
I would suggest they get their companies to join our coalition, The Veterans Jobs Mission, because we offer a support structure to help them employ veterans in whatever industry sector they’re in. We represent a community that shares lessons learned, discusses benefits and opportunities, and so that’s what I’d suggest: Join us.Twitter It!