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Remarks at National Veteran Employment Summit

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AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
CONTACT OFFICE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
202-482-4883

Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank
Remarks at National Veteran Employment Summit

Thank you, Sal, and thanks to Senator Manchin.  Clearly, West Virginia’s veterans – and veterans throughout the U.S. – have a strong advocate for them in the halls of Congress.

I also want to thank everyone at Monster.com, military.com, and others who made this summit possible. All of us at the Commerce Department and throughout the administration are proud to support these efforts. This includes, of course, the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden who have led the Joining Forces initiative.

Of course, I want to thank all of you–the professionals who understand that hiring veterans is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Special thanks to those of you who are veterans yourselves.

It’s clear that America’s veterans have the leadership, the character, and the team-oriented approach that employers are looking for. In fact, studies show that hiring a veteran just makes smart business sense. You’ll be hearing from an expert from Syracuse University who will speak to this a little later.

As the head of a Department with over 40,000 employees, I know this first hand.

We’ve made it a priority to hire veterans. And I’m proud to say that–for the fifth year in a row–at least 10 percent of all our new hires were veterans. In fact, last fiscal year, the Commerce Department had its highest percentage of disabled-veteran hires in 19 years, 2.9 percent.

Sometimes, I collaborate with one of our veteran-employees on an initiative or an event that directly relates to veterans. For example, I went to Honeywell’s office here in D.C. just after Veterans Day last month to talk with veterans who were interviewing for jobs that day. They were sharp and poised–ready to get that job.

But more often, I will work with a veteran-employee on some aspect of our mission at Commerce–ranging from tracking storms through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to supporting manufacturers and exporters, to putting patents in the hands of businesses.

And even if I don’t know up-front that I’m working with a veteran on one of these projects, it usually doesn’t take me long to figure it out.

  • I’ll notice it when I see the confidence with which she carries herself when she comes in and sits down at my conference table–ready to get to work. . .
  • I’ll notice the care he took to ensure that a memo or a report is clear, concise, and compelling. . .
  • Or I’ll hear something in our conversation–perhaps an answer to one of my questions–that signals to me that I’m working with someone who is a trained leader.

Simply knowing that there are veterans working throughout the Department gives me great confidence that we will continue to achieve our mission at the Commerce Department, which is to help build an environment in which American business can compete, grow, and create jobs.

All of you here today know what I’m talking about when I say that Veteran hiring is good for business. You–and the CEOs and Directors of your organizations–know what veterans bring to the table. You get it.

More important, you understand that–right now–we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to serve as advocates for veterans who are looking for work. That is true now more than ever.

Tens of thousands of veterans have come home from Iraq. Tens of thousands more are returning from Afghanistan. All told, over a million service members will be transitioning back to civilian life–or returning from a Reserve or National Guard deployment–over the next few years.

Under the president’s leadership, the administration has already taken several steps to make sure these veterans can find job opportunities when they return.

  • We’re making major improvements in how the military transitions service members from the battlefield to the workplace.
  • We’re making sure the post-9/11 GI Bill stays strong.
  • And we have worked closely with the private sector–folks like you–to train and hire more unemployed veterans.

In fact, the Joining Forces initiative has already made a powerful impact in the lives of thousands of servicemen and women, veterans, military spouses, and others.

For instance, back in August 2011, the president challenged American businesses to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.

The response was overwhelming. Two thousand companies stepped up–including some of yours, I’m sure. And as the First Lady announced in August, we surpassed the goal a full year ahead of schedule.

So now it’s time to do what any good military officer or CEO with an overperforming team would do–It’s time to raise the bar. The companies involved in Joining Forces have a new goal of hiring or training an additional 250,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014.

These kinds of efforts are having an impact. They’re helping us drive down the unemployment rate for veterans–now at 6.6 percent, which is below the national average.

But there are still too many veterans–especially young veterans–who can’t find work. Their unemployment rate is much higher: 10 percent for 25-29; 26.5 percent for 18-24.

Therefore, we must continue to seek new partners who will join with us to help veterans find jobs here at home–jobs that are worthy of their skills, talents, and leadership.

Today, I’m pleased that one of the most powerful players in the job-search industry is stepping up to the plate.

It’s my pleasure to announce that Monster.com is officially coming on board in the Joining Forces initiative! Let’s hear it for Sal and all the folks at Monster.com and military.com.

Sal–I look forward to hearing about all of the contributions that Monster will make to this crucial effort.

And, as we move forward, the Commerce Department will continue to be a strong partner, too.

  • We will encourage even more businesses to make hard commitments to veteran hiring.
  • We will connect those businesses with other businesses that already have a track record in hiring veterans – and I know you’ll be hearing about best practices later today.
  • We will work to identify, refine and share best practices in veterans hiring.
  • And we will make sure that veteran-entrepreneurs, veteran business owners, and veterans in the workforce have all of the tools they need from the federal government.  

I believe that America’s capacity to innovate and compete in the 21st century is tied to our collective commitment to unleash the full potential of women and men who have served in our armed forces.

We must do everything we can to provide them with paths to good jobs that will help our nation maintain its global leadership.

With an economy that has shown three years of growth, we are moving in the right direction; but we can’t stop until every veteran, reservist, and military family member who wants a job has a job.

By being here today, you show that you share that vision with our Commander-in-Chief and everyone throughout the administration.  

Congratulations again to Monster.com on becoming the newest company to become part of the Joining Forces initiative. We look forward to your unique contributions to the effort.  

And thanks again to everyone here for all the work you do–day in and day out–to put America’s veterans back to work when they come home. Thank you.