In 2012, when the Virginia Values Veterans Program was conceived, America and the commonwealth were recovering from the Great Recession. Unemployment, especially among veterans and transitioning service members, was still high, and thousands more service members were preparing to leave active duty at Virginia military bases.
The governor and General Assembly were determined to find jobs for these highly skilled, trained and motivated men and women in order to keep them in Virginia. They also wanted to make Virginia the destination for service members transitioning from bases in other states.
The idea behind the V3 program was to team with employers willing to commit to hiring veterans, and then working with these employers to help them implement nationally recognized best practices to recruit, hire and retain veterans.
This included showing employers how the skills service members learned while in the military transferred to the skills needed for positions in the civilian world. It would be a true public-private partnership that had never been attempted in any other state.
V3 began as a pilot program to test the concept. First, V3 had to find Virginia businesses and government agencies that were interested in becoming partners and making the commitment to hiring veterans.
The next step was to identify the training and support that these potential partners felt they needed most, determine how to tailor it for companies of different sizes and with different needs, and make it all scalable.
Virginia employers answered the call and hired about 3,000 veterans in the pilot year. Today, more than 1,000 employers are V3 certified and, in July, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that more than 50,000 veterans had been hired to date through the V3 program. Northam has set a goal of 65,000 total V3 hires by the end of his administration.
“Today, in 2019, veteran unemployment is below 3% here in Virginia in most regions,” said Ross Koenig, V3 program manager at the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. “This is lower than the current overall unemployment numbers here in the commonwealth. Employers have really recognized that veterans make great employees.
“In fact, the most interesting change I have noticed in my more than seven years working in the V3 program was the assumption that most veterans want to do a civilian job similar to or the same as what they did while in the military. That holds true for some, but other veterans want to do something different.
“They’re getting savvier about obtaining certifications and additional education that will be a springboard to broader opportunities in the future,” Koenig added. “The beauty of the military is that it instills in every service member a sense of duty, commitment and teamwork that are broadly transferable to just about any job.
“Employers are also learning that in a tighter job market, they need to become V3 certified and reach out to veterans. DVS is partnering with the Virginia Chamber Foundation in a recruiting and networking program called Hire Vets Now. Hire Vets Now holds events in which V3 employers can participate on military installations throughout Virginia to reach service members before they leave active duty.
“These events are regularly scheduled at the Naval Station Norfolk, Fort Belvoir, Joint Base Langley-Eustis and Fort Lee. Participation has been outstanding.
“There is no charge for an employer to become a V3 partner and certified employer. It just takes a commitment by the employer to participate in the required training on site or online.
“It is easy to enroll on our website, www.dvsV3.com,” Koenig said. “Our website has a complete listing of all our V3 employers and we are always here to help. We have regional V3 program managers responsible for central, western and Northern Virginia, and Hampton Roads.
“The most successful V3 employers have found that one of the best ways to recruit and retain veterans is to establish a veterans employee resource group that can welcome new veterans employees and help them navigate their new civilian job. Veterans understand other veterans, and having a battle buddy at your new employer can make a real difference.”
While unemployment numbers are low for veterans, unemployment and underemployment numbers for active-duty military spouses are high. Military families often move from base to base every few years, which makes finding suitable jobs for spouses difficult.
This is a problem, because many families today find it difficult to live without two incomes. DVS and V3 are now working to alleviate this situation and encourage employers to hire more military spouses throughout the state.
In partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s national Hiring Our Heroes program, Virginia has established Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones in every region of the state.
Through this collaborative effort among businesses and civic and military communities, DVS is working with partners to connect military spouses with employers committed to hiring them wherever they are stationed in the commonwealth.
With the growing demand for employees in every phase of our state economy — from manufacturing to high-tech, from skilled trades to law enforcement and health care — Virginia’s veterans and military spouses are a resource that we need. The Virginia Values Veterans Program has proven to be a prime factor in keeping them here and continuing the mission of DVS to assure that Virginia is the No. 1 state for veterans in America.