Eleven years ago, Mark and Tori Baird sank much of their life savings into a project to help veterans down on their luck. HirePatriots.com began as a one-day job board that San Diego residents used to hire local Marines. The web project grew, connecting tens of thousands of U.S. military veterans with temporary and permanent jobs throughout Southern California and then nationally. Both the White House and Congress have recognized the Bairds for their work.
Mark Baird is the author of An American Crisis: Veterans’ Unemployment. Vets, corporate executives and employment specialists contributed to the book, which discusses ways to integrate veterans into the civilian workforce—and keep them there.
Freedom caught up with the Bairds at their home near Camp Pendleton.
You two were comfortable and semi-retired. Why did you decide to put so much time, effort and money into starting HirePatriots.com back in 2004?
One day a Marine knocked on our door. He said he’d just returned from war to find his wife and child sitting in the dark because their electricity had been turned off for nonpayment. We offered him $100, but his pride wouldn’t let him take the money without earning it. Only after working hours at our place did he accept the money.
We thought that if he was in this situation, then others probably were too. We started a job board for military [personnel] and veterans looking for day jobs to make ends meet. Pretty soon we were getting 10,000 hits a week. That’s when we knew there was a great need for what we were doing.
What do employers need to understand about hiring veterans as opposed to civilian workers?
Vets are used to working in a structured environment with a game plan and a purpose. So many times vets come into a company and see chaos and it’s hard for them to function.
To keep turnover down, employers need to go the extra mile by creating a vet-friendly workplace—one that gets the vets together and delineates someone for them to report to like the chain of command they are used to.
What do veterans need to understand about the civilian employment world to be successful?
They need to understand—and this goes for employers too—that there will be a transition process. Veterans also need to do a better job at picking companies that fit them instead of taking the first available job, which is often the case.
They need to understand that they’re coming from a very structured environment and many civilian companies don’t operate that way. It can be frustrating for them, but they should expect that to be part of the learning curve.
Why is it a good move for employers to hire veterans?
Hiring veterans is a wonderful move. It’s not hard to do and will pay big dividends in the long run.
Veterans went through a rigorous selection process just to get [into] the military in the first place. They are typically top-notch people who the government has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in. Companies will find all kinds of gems in the veteran community if they hire from it.
Does the pressure of joblessness lead to other problems in a vet’s life or do other problems prevent vets from holding jobs?
Housing and employment are the two most important things. If a vet doesn’t have a place to sleep or wash their clothes, they can’t do anything.
Right after that is employment. Vets have a hard time finding jobs that match the pay they received while in the military and that’s why you see so many divorces shortly after they separate [from the military]. The divorce rate among combat veterans is the highest in the country and a large part of the reason is economic.
In the last year, federal veteran unemployment figures have dropped a little. Are you seeing this?
Our experience is just the opposite. There are so many vets who’ve been looking for work for four or five years that they no longer even show up as unemployed. They are starting companies—not because they want to, but because no one will hire them.
This is the worst veteran hiring environment we’ve ever seen. They are losing their homes; they are losing their families; and they are losing their hope.
To combat this, we are holding hiring events to introduce veterans to companies they are interested in finding employment with. And every day we counsel job-seeking veterans across the country and set them on the right path to finding employment quickly.