Employers On A Crusade To Hire Post-9/11 Veterans

Ryan Enriquez JPMorgan Chase

Sometimes in meetings at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Ryan Enriquez is tempted to bark at his employees to "lock it up" when conference calls lose focus.And when he's managing projects in the mortgage division, he sometimes finds himself adopting the Marine Corps' 5-Paragraph Order to introduce order to the large-scale projects he oversees.

Enriquez, who served in Iraq in 2003 during the initial invasion, is just one of 10.3 million Americans working in corporate America, according to GIJobs.com. He was hired in 2011, and was one of the first veterans as part of the bank's 100,000 jobs mission. The goal is to get the vets hired by 2020.

Nate Herman, the bank's former executive director in charge of military affairs and founder of the campaign, told New York's Daily News that it was "the right thing to do, but it's also a business imperative." He went on to add: "We are not running a charity. This is the kind of talent we need to be successful in the marketplace."

The 100,000 Jobs Mission

The campaign was begun in March 2011 for hiring at JPMorgan itself, but the bank has since been joined by 76 other employers in the mission. As of this month, 28,186 veterans have received jobs. (JPMorgan itself has brought on 4,000 veterans to take on jobs ranging from bank teller to project manager for the investment bank.)

The commitment represents a new proactive commitment to jobs outreach for veterans from the private sector, according to historians interviewed for this article.

"You are seeing a new attitude of 'what can we do?' in the corporate world," says Libby O'Connell, the chief historian at The History Channel, and a frequent commentator on veterans matters. "Previously it was only companies with strong military ties like Lockheed Martin that helped veterans. Now it's companies that aren't as involved that want to take an active stance."

More:Top Employers Of Veterans

Such a contribution couldn't be coming at a more pressing time. Thanks in part to government programs like the Department of Labor's America's Heroes At Work, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 vets has dropped from its high of 15.2 percent in January, 2011, to the most recent figure of 8.9 percent in July.

JPMorgan is not alone in trying to make a dent in veteran unemployment. On Aug. 22, the White House announced that its Joining Forces initiative has led to the hiring of 125,000 veterans and their spouses since it was launched last August. Some 2,000 companies have taken part, and like JPMorgan's campaign, it is ahead of schedule. Its initial goal was to get 100,000 veterans hired by 2013. Other companies that are known for their veteran outreach include Disney, Starbucks and Xerox.

Righting The Wrong

"Once in a while, people in history get a chance to right a wrong from history," O'Connell says. "After Vietnam, veterans were disrespected because of the opposition to the war. Everyone has realized veterans' well-being has nothing to do with how you felt about the war."

For its part, JPMorgan says it got involved because it wanted to see whether the bank was doing enough to help veteran employment, according to Maureen Casey, the executive director for veterans affairs at JPMorgan. She dismissed the notion that the campaign was just a public relations move at a time when banks are under fire, saying the campaign represented a "serious commitment."

The bank wouldn't comment on the size of its budget dedicated to the veteran hiring outreach, but it does have a staff of 20 working on veterans affairs and outreach. The division is composed of four regional recruitment teams, which develop relationships with local military bases (among other contacts) to get in touch with potential job seekers. Previous to this generation's wars, no such division existed at the bank. But at just one JPMorgan jobs fair -- held at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., at the end of August -- 1,000 veterans were introduced to 47 companies.

More:Veterans With PTSD Use Music Therapy To Heal -- And Get Back To Work

Not since the 1940s has there been as large a need for the private sector to step up to ensure that veterans get jobs. Legislation like the GI Bill, which provided World War II veterans with four years of education or training -- and the mostly robust U.S. economy in the second half of the 20th century -- helped insulate veterans, and the rest of the country, from pervasive unemployment.

Even skeptics of corporate America's comfort with veterans feel the current campaigns are more than simple public relations.

"The commitment on the part of Wall Street is legitimate," says Tom Tarantino, the chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association. "There is reticence; this is the first generation of business leaders who have not toted around a machine gun with the end of the draft. But they get it because they want to get it, and also because hiring veterans is beneficial for the skills they bring."

Body Armor To Business Suits

And veterans like Enriquez are exposed to special programming after they've been hired. The bank, for instance, says that it offers a "body armor to business suits" online program, which is a web-based learning course that outlines differences between in the corporate culture and military life.

The bank says that it does what it can to try and allow veterans to keep a low profile at the bank, and doesn't force them to represent the armed forces unless they want to.

But it's impossible for the military experience to be completely set aside. In Enriquez's case, though, taking on a public role representing veterans is something he's sought out.

Enriquez returned to civilian life after having his hand crushed during the initial Iraq invasion in 2003. While attending Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey as a member of the U.S. reserves, he founded the school's Veterans' Association. The Filipino-American is also the director of online marketing for the New York chapter of the ALPFA, which promotes Latino business leaders.

And along the way, the military intensity has helped steer Enriquez to his current success.

"If we have an open discussion, everyone tends to respond a little more positively, and we get better results," he says. "I have learned when to ease into issues, or when it's helpful to bring out the marine."

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