It’s smart to hire veterans

January 18, 2013

Retailers that hire ex-military gain numerous advantages in a fast-churn market.

Pledging to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years, Walmart does the right thing for returning soldiers and its own vast enterprise.

The chain isn’t the first, but its program is the biggest in the nation. First Lady Michelle Obama launched Joining Forces in 2011—and by mid-2012, 2,000 businesses hired or trained more than 125,000 veterans and military spouses as part of the initiative. Last March, Safeway committed to hiring more than 900 military service members in 2012. This followed Safeway’s 2010 launch of a program designed specifically to transition military seeking leadership posts in the chain’s stores, distribution centers and manufacturing plants. 

The Walmart initiative helps the chain corner the market on young workers who are typically mature for their age, able to make decisions and perform under pressure, and who respect structure and a chain of command. Further, the workforce could benefit from the military discipline. Selling floors may become safer places, more secure from shoplifting and other threats due to the vigilance of new workers. And Walmart addresses its ongoing churn problem, which retail staffs experience everywhere.

Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon’s announcement at this week’s National Retail Federation conference pairs with the chain’s commitment to buy $50 billion more of U.S.-sourced merchandise over the next decade.

The Lempert Report sees these announcements partly as tools to shift today’s dialogue away from its alleged Mexico bribery scandal and the fire at a Bangladesh clothing factory. And if the new initiatives help quell consumer pushback when Walmart seeks zoning to open new community stores, so much the better, we believe the chain thinks. Still, in our view, these initiatives are positive and constructive, and parlay Walmart’s leadership in sustainability and in lowering industry costs.  

Still, the jobs aren’t enough. These jobs need career paths. And we urge that the jobs be packaged with the kinds of psychological support and help re-orienting to society, which many veterans will need.

Returning soldiers could use the hiring boost, which launches on Memorial Day. Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans had a 10.8% unemployment rate vs. 7.8% nationally, according to the Associated Press. People can’t afford to step aside from jobs in this economy to make way for veterans of recent unpopular wars. The nation didn’t do it in the Vietnam era, and it isn’t happening today.

Times were different when World War II ended. By 1944, 1.36 million women with husbands in military service had entered the U.S. workforce, and many resumed domestic roles once men returned, as public support shifted from Rosie the Riveter to the homemaker-mother model. A repeat is unlikely today because women long ago earned their independence, and they have significant financial responsibilities.