As I entered the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill the morning of June 1 with colleagues from our key partner, the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, I was humbled to be walking through the halls of Congress. Soon I would be testifying, on behalf of DirectEmployers Association, to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs at a full committee hearing about “Putting America’s Veterans Back to Work.”
At the top of the hour at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, we took our seats when the Honorable Jeff Miller, Florida, Chairman, pounded his gavel to begin the session with his opening remarks. Mr. Miller started by stating this would be one of the most important hearings in this Congress. Recently he met with several veteran organizations and they all agreed jobs for veterans are a priority. I listened intently to Mr. Miller continue as he reviewed, from his perspective, key areas needing improvement:
- There are federally-funded training and employment programs for veterans; we must re-evaluate these programs and make necessary improvements to ensure these programs are working.
- Current training programs do not meet the needs of middle-aged veterans, in particular, who may need new skills; we need to retool these programs to help veterans compete for jobs.
- We must also enforce the legal protections for Guard and Reserve service members and ensure their employment rights are preserved when returning home.
- We need to better understand the demographics of unemployed veterans, to include education levels, lengths of unemployment, and skills learned in the military.
Mr. Miller explained he is working on a new jobs bill for veterans and then stated his goal is to reduce the unemployment of veterans from 7.7% to 4.5% over the next two years at the outset.
Mr. Miller then introduced the Honorable Bob Filner, California, Ranking Democratic Member, who followed with his opening comments. Then Mr. Miller continued proceedings with the first panel of witnesses:
- Richard A. Hobbie, Executive Director, National Association of State Workforce Agencies
- Jolene Jefferies, Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, DirectEmployers Association
- Kevin M. Schmiegel, Vice President, Veterans’ Employment Programs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Hank Jackson, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer, Society for Human Resource Management
Starting with Mr. Hobbie, we each had five minutes to provide oral testimony, and then the Chairman and Congressmen began firing questions at our panel. Mr. Filner acknowledged the VA knows every veteran, and asked for one suggestion from each of us to help veterans get hired. I recommended to Mr. Filner that the VA provide employers with a simple “heat map” that shows, by geography, where employers can find veterans with specific skills. The dialogue was interesting as the panelists provided our thoughts. The Honorable Dan Benishek, Michigan, asked me questions directly and I shared that a big barrier for employers has to do with the issue of accreditation and licensing and the inconsistent standards between states, thereby preventing employers from hiring veterans because the veteran’s military license or certification doesn’t meet state standards. If there was a consistent education standard across all states and the military for licenses or certifications for the top in-demand occupations, veterans could bet back to work much more quickly because they wouldn’t be required to take additional courses or training in their state in areas they already know very well. The conversation with our panel continued for some time.
Then the second and third panels followed our panel. A total of 10 witnesses testified, and the entire hearing lasted for about two and a half hours. I’ve had many people ask me if I was nervous. Well indeed, I was—just a little. But when Mr. Miller first entered the room, he came right over to us, introduced himself, and gave each of us a warm handshake as he genuinely thanked us for being there. That was nice and it put me at ease. Once he hit the gavel though, I was ready to get in the game because of my passion for finding ways to make it easier for employers to hire and retain veterans. It was a wonderful experience and truly an honor to testify before this prestigious committee. Check out my photos of the hearing here.
Here is the web page for the hearing, including the full list of all 10 witnesses and full written text of testimony from each organization: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/topic-be-determined
Watch the webcast of the hearing at: http://veteransaffairs.edgeboss.net/wmedia/veteransaffairs/2011/110601.wvx (requires certain program to open, may not be viewable by all)
Meet the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, The Honorable Jeff Miller: http://veterans.house.gov/about/chair
Meet the Full 112th House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs: http://veterans.house.gov/about/membership