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Guest column

Smart firms see hiring vets as good business

This month there is a lot to be thankful for. With Veterans Day just recently passed and Thanksgiving this week, it’s important to remember that we owe our veterans more than a debt of gratitude. We owe them the opportunity to build a great career. As employers, we have an obligation to actively recruit and train America’s heroes. If we don’t we not only fail them, we also miss out on some of our country’s most talented, motivated and disciplined workers.

More than 33,000 servicemembers recently returned from Afghanistan. As the drawdown continues, they will be joined by tens of thousands of others now serving around the world. The scope of the drawdown, as well as tightened promotion standards, means that many job-seeking veterans will be highly skilled with proven leadership abilities.

Employers have everything to gain by tapping this talent. Unemployment for veterans was at 6.7 percent in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lower than the national average but still too high. Younger veterans who have recently separated from service and female veterans, who have an unemployment rate more than twice the average at 13.2 percent, aren’t faring as well.

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What can employers do? There are plenty of resources for companies seeking to hire veterans. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families has teamed up with GE to launch a toolkit to help employers recognize, recruit and support veteran talent. The toolkit has resources for executive leaders, human resources professionals, veteran employees and co-workers.

Throughout the U.S., companies of all sizes are stepping up and making a difference. The 100,000 Jobs Mission, which includes more than 70 top U.S. companies, has hired more than 28,000 transitioning veterans since it was founded in March 2011. Partner companies include JPMorgan Chase, Cisco, Delta Airlines, Verizon, MetLife, HP, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Ernst & Young, Bloomberg and Pitney Bowes.

Clearly, business leaders recognize there is much to be gained by hiring veterans. That’s been our experience at Edward Jones, where more than 1,300 of our total network of 12,000-plus financial advisers — 11 percent — have prior military experience. This year we have added 300 more veterans as financial advisers, including about one-third through our FORCES program that launched earlier this year. The program features enhanced training and mentoring and also meets requirements for on-the-job training benefits in some states under the GI Bill.

Behind the numbers are the individual veterans who benefit not just from a job, but a long-term, well-paying career. They deserve no less. I’m always struck by the personal stories of our military veteran financial advisers who have sacrificed so much for our country.

Financial adviser Valerie Wallis joined Edward Jones after a career in the U.S. Army Reserve, where she mastered areas as diverse as logistics, nuclear biochemical defense, human resources and military science, and earned her MBA.

Wallis joined Edward Jones earlier this year, attracted by the opportunity to help people and, as she put it, “have a job that mattered again.” Pursuing a career as a financial adviser gave her the opportunity to fulfill a long-held dream: to start her own business. With our business model Valerie, like every financial adviser at Edward Jones, will have her own office and clients when she graduates from training this month.

The ability to build a business, serve his clients, and be part of a supportive community was also important to Andrew Ramos, who joined Edward Jones in 2002 after six years of active service. As a reservist, he was later called up to serve in 2006-07 in Iraq as an intelligence officer and from 2010-11 in the Horn of Africa.

During Ramos’ tours, our firm provided an interim adviser to serve his clients. When Ramos returned, he said, “I literally had the same office, the same assistant. It was as if I had just gone away for the weekend.” During his absence, Ramos didn’t lose a single client, a testament to his skills and the relationships he’d built.

We have more than a thousand other veteran career-changers who are success stories in their own right. Veterans are mission-oriented, determined to succeed, and committed to service. These traits serve them well as financial advisers and a multitude of other professions.

Certainly we owe our veterans a deep debt of gratitude. More importantly, though, we owe them the opportunities they’ve earned. Hiring talented veterans with a terrific work ethic isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also good business. In our experience, veterans will take the opportunity offered to them and excel.

Jim Weddle is an Edward Jones managing partner.

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