Hampton Roads is home to the largest Navy base in the world and the largest concentration of military bases in Virginia. It is also home to well over 100,000 active duty military personnel and to 75 federal and defense facilities, representing every branch of the Armed Services and NATO. What they bring to this region is astounding, taking the form of over $10 billion in annual economic impact and a significant contribution to the defense of our country.
We are currently at the beginning of one of the largest draw downs in recent memory. Over the next 18 months, more than 24,000 service members will end their military careers and look to call Virginia home. Almost 50% of them want to settle in Hampton Roads.
For many, the transition from military to civilian is more complicated then writing a resume and landing an interview. At the end of 2014, approximately 17,000 Virginia veterans were unemployed. Veterans tell us they face challenges with translating their military experience into the civilian world, navigating a tight labor market, and competing against candidates who have more experience. Often, they are trying to accomplish this far from home, and without family or community support systems.
However, these challenges present a window of opportunity for local employers to add value and depth to their workforce. What veterans bring to the civilian workforce is an unparalleled skill set and a value system second to none. The military trains people to lead by example through direction, delegation, motivation, and inspiration. Veterans possess a deep understanding and practical way to gain results. They are especially adept under the most trying circumstances. Veterans have a proven ability to learn new skills and concepts having done so because military service necessitates they be continual, life-long learners. In short, service members enter our workforce with identifiable and transferable skills, proven in real-world situations.
As the most military friendly state in the nation, Virginia has both a responsibility and a critical need to assist military members in their transition, while making it as easy as possible for those members and their skills to remain in the Commonwealth. That is why for the last twelve months, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce has been bringing together members of the military with leaders from non-profit organizations, community colleges and universities, the government and the business community to discuss how to create a holistic approach for military-to-civilian transition in our region. This effort has grown into a partnership with Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, John Harvey and the Virginia Military Advisory Council (VMAC). Secretary Harvey has set up four Local Planning Groups across the Commonwealth to bring together resources and spearhead innovations throughout the most military-dense regions. The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce will be leading one of those Local Planning Groups. In concert with VMAC we will work on refining and supporting the implementation of new, collaborative solutions that have broad local and state support. In doing so we will be taking advantage of every asset possible to include Army OneSource, a Secretary of the Army initiative to improve civilian and military support of Service members by identifying and enhancing both pre-separation and post-separation efforts to smooth the transition process.
While Virginia has a solid track record of leadership and innovation in supporting service members moving to civilian employment, there is still much to be done. It is our duty and responsibility to support our military men and women. If a veteran applies for a position or comes to you for guidance, stop, listen and consider. It is an honor! You won’t regret it.
Bryan K. Stephens is the President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and a proud Army veteran. He can be reached at 757-664-2535.