June 23, 2011 -- Financial giants Bank of America, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, will host a conference today on the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier on New York's Hudson River that will bring together execs and vets in hopes of battling high veteran unemployment rates.
The conference will educate Wall Street execs on how to recruit vets, and educate vets on how to market their skills to big banks, and include a job fair that will host over 100 employers and over 1,000 veterans.
Veterans have been hit hard by the recession in recent years. In 2010, the jobless rate among all veterans who have served since 2001 is 11.5 percent -- 2 percent higher than for non-veterans, at 9.4 percent, according to the Department of Labor. Males between the ages of 18 and 24 were especially affected, with an unemployment rate of 21.9 percent.
In May 2011, veteran unemployment was 12.1 percent, compared to 9.1. percent for non-veterans. In the same period, unemployment among all U.S. workers fell from 9.6 percent to 9.1 percent. Yet when 33,000 troops return home by next summer from Afghanistan, the rate may go even higher for veterans.
"You're going to have a lot of veterans without jobs," said Kevin Schmiegel, vice president of veterans employment initiatives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a veteran who spent 20 years in the Marine Corps before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
Schmiegel said there are a lot of efforts by the government and the private sector to employ veterans, but that they are not well-coordinated, and result in confusion for veterans and employers alike, which the Chamber of Commerce hopes to reduce with job fairs similar to the one they are hosting at the conference.
Frank Fehrenbach, Deutsche Bank's head of business and client strategy for the Americas, identified a few hurdles for veterans in the civilian workforce.
"Some of the veterans coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan -- they may have led a large team, their resumes may have descriptions about artillery and leadership in language hard to translate," Fehrenbach told ABC News. "There's still a mindset [among some employers] that there's less of a risk to hire the person who's spent a year at Morgan Stanley."
Fehrenbach said a company's HR professionals have to be trained on how to interpret military experience on a resume.
And veterans have to be trained on how to market their military experience to employers.
"You need to translate your skills into reasons why a business should hire you. If you've led 40 people, had a budget that you were responsible for -- these are attributes that most businesses would want. You need to rip out all the military acronyms and give businesses a reason to hire you," said Michael Fleming, head of Deutsche Bank's Global Business Services Center in Jacksonville, Fla., and also a retired brigadier general.
Owen West, a former Marine who served during the 2003 Iraq invasion and as an advisor to an Iraqi infantry battalion, said his military background helped him land a job at Goldman Sachs, where he is now Managing Director.
"Much of the skill set I had to apply while serving was carried over to my role at Goldman Sachs: discipline, teamwork, analytical thinking, ability to make an impact, achievement and leadership skills," said Owen, who believes that hiring veterans is good business strategy.
"There is a great pool of talent that needs to be tapped. The very qualities that I brought to Goldman Sachs are the same qualities firms across Wall Street are seeking. These are skills the military has already instilled in the men and women who serve -- this is what we are taught from the very beginning."
Fehrenbach said that besides from being good business strategy, it's a moral imperative.
"We live in the safety and security after 9/11, and we've had it for some time, in large part due to men and women fighting overseas," said Fehrenbach, who comes from a military family.
Fehrenbach said the idea for Veterans on Wall Street first came about when Gen. John Abizaid, former CENTCOM commander, spoke at an equity conference in Manhattan. Abizaid appealed to CEOs present to hire veterans. "You won't regret it, and this group really needs your help," Fehrenbach recalls him saying.
Fehrenbach said Deutsche Bank then examined what initiatives existed to hire vets, and couldn't find any.
"We embarked on a multi-month, fact-finding mission," he said, on what the bank could do to hire more veterans at the bank, or at the various assets they owned...there is a large gamut of jobs that they can fill."
"You look at vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan -- the leadership, the discipline that they have, the risk that they've assessed, it's a natural very symbiotic thing, for us it's a win-win," Fehrenbach said.
Speaking at the conference will be retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was tapped earlier this year by the Obama administration to lead an initiative on military families, as well as Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and purple heart recipient.
Fehrenbach said normally banks compete against one another, instead of working together.
"It's very hard for us to be friendly -- it's not easy to put all the banks in the room," he said. But he said they've all stepped up, to help those who have stepped up to serve the nation.