Securing Meaningful Careers for Chicago Veterans

by Megan Everett, Director, Veterans Program

There are a lot of misconceptions about veterans.

PTSD or on the brink of committing suicide.

Physically aggressive.

Broken heroes.

The list goes on and on.

Veteran-stereotypes are just that, stereotypes. And like most stereotypes they are not true.

The reality is most veterans are neither heroes nor broken, they are normal people looking to lead happy lives, have loving families, and obtain meaningful, successful careers.

Sadly, this is not reality that most veterans face when returning from service. According to a recent survey issued by the University of Southern California and Loyal University of Chicago, Chicago veterans are unprepared for the shift from military to civilian workforce, and, consequently struggle during the transition process. The study also showed about half of post-9/11 veterans, returning to Chicago, will experience a period of unemployment.

Here’s the thing — veterans ARE trained leaders for whom accountability and strong work ethic are second nature. They are uniquely equipped to meet the demands of today’s civilian workplace, and should be seen as assets to an organization, not a charity case.

How can we as a city dispel veteran stereotypes and position them as “assets” in the Chicago business community? Insert one solution: the Commercial Club of Chicago’s Veterans Working Group (VWG).

In 2013, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Commercial Club of Chicago, and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning joined forces to start and initiative that would raise awareness within Chicago’s business community of the strengths veterans bring to the workplace and the unique nature of recruiting, hiring and retaining veterans.

Recognizing that meaningful and stable employment is the foundation for a smooth transition home, the VWG, comprised of regional leaders from a diverse range of industries and veteran employment experts, work together to devise actionable solutions to develop pathways for Chicago veterans to access and obtain meaningful, satisfying careers.

Over the last four years, VWG model has proven to be a success. The Group members attribute its success to a few key components:

  1. Meeting content focuses on addressing members and veterans’ needs
  2. Well-planned quarterly convenings
  3. Encouraging engagement and exchange of timely, localized best practices that can be easily implemented
  4. Connecting businesses to local resources

The VWG continues to draw more and more organizational leaders from various industries— and we see this as promising. Promising for the for veterans in the Chicago area, but also promising for those around the country who are interested in starting a similar regional initiative. The VWG can serve as a model for regional collaboration, public/private partnerships, galvanizing the business community, and improving support of veterans nationwide.

When veterans have access to rewarding jobs, the entire community benefits.

To access the Veterans Working Group case study click here.


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