Just in time for the Veteran’s Day weekend, Nestlé Project Opportunity hosted over 100 participants at Nestlé’s new headquarters in Rosslyn, VA earlier this month. Participants, including former members of the military, from numerous organizations and companies from around the country came together to share how they are active in the transition of U.S. military personnel and their spouses into the civilian market.

The morning began with Steve Presley, Nestlé USA, Chairman & CEO, who discussed the company’s commitment to build their employee pipeline with a strong representation of military veterans. Nestlé’s commitment was highlighted in three panel discussions which focused on how the hiring of veterans and their spouses made great sense and some of the obstacles to making it happen.

The first panel highlighted their commitment to military and their spouses and consisted of division leaders within Nestlé North American company. Panelists included Judy Cascapera, Chief People Officer for Nestlé USA; Steve Degnan, VP of Human Resources for Nestlé Purina; Tom Smith, President of Customer Development for Nestlé Waters; and Lisa Walker, VP of HR: Talent Acquisition & Organization Design for Nestlé Waters. Several of the panelist were former military and shared their journey as veterans who climbed the Nestlé corporate ladder. The major takeaway was the commitment to include veterans and their spouses as a part of the employment program that Nestlé has from the top down.

The second panel discussion, Building the New Workforce – Strengthening Partnerships to Create a Sourcing Pipeline, was moderated by Jeff Cleland of the Maryland State Highway Administration. The panelists included representatives from various organizations that have developed strong programs for veterans. Panelists included Meg O’Grady of Purdue Global, Michael Quinn of Hire Military, Beth Conlin of Blue Star Families and Carolyn Lee of the Manufacturing Institute. Each of the panelist shared their organizations story of what they were doing to improve the opportunities for veterans transitioning out of the military.

The final panel discussion, Employer Challenges & Best Practices – Targeted Entry Points for Military Hires, was moderated by John DiPiero, Director of Military Advocacy Group at USAA. Panelists included Herrick Ross of Starbucks, David Lee of CVS Health, Ralph Hernandez of Amazon and Brian Armstrong of Hilton Hotels. As with the other panels, several of the panelists were former military and shared first hand experiences of their transition to civilian life and how their companies were going about the process of ensuring that veterans were an integral part of their employee pipeline.

In the afternoon, the attendees participated in roundtable discussions to share the challenges veterans face in their transition to civilian life and what can be done from both the military and civilian sides to make the transition more efficient. Challenges included:

  • How do we translate a veteran’s military experience and their interest into civilian career opportunities when they both speak a different language?
  • How do we give veterans full credit for their experience as they transition to civilian positions that require certification?

Obviously, a military truck driver career should easily convert to a civilian CDL, or a welder in the military should easily convert to a comparable position in the civilian world, but even logical conversions such as these continue to have their own set of conversion challenges. You can imagine the greater challenge deciding what civilian position a former Field Artillery Surveyor or Transmission & Distribution Specialist would most easily qualify and how to help them achieve the appropriate certifications for OTJ experience already gained if necessary.

Once challenges were identified, solutions were brought to the table and prioritized by each group. Undoubtedly many of the groups had similar suggestions, and those suggestions were handed over to Nestlé’s group to work through, while examining potential solutions. The end product could serve as a foundation for best practices moving forward.

I admire the commitment of Nestlé one of the country’s largest and best run company’s, for expending the resources necessary to identify and create solutions for America’s veterans. Currently, of the approximately 1.5 million individuals serving in the U.S. military, approximately 250,000 leave the military each year. Hopefully the results of Project Opportunity will assist Nestlé and other companies to develop a logical and easily accessible employee pipeline for these transitioning veterans.

Over the past 4 years, we at Bridging America’s Gap have worked hard to help high school students make a similar transition from the world of education to the world of employment. Today there are approximately 15 million high school students in the United States. Of these roughly 30% or 5 million of them have no plans for post-secondary education when they either leave or graduate from high school.

With over half a million skilled jobs unfilled and millions more projected to go unfilled over the next several years, we need a concerted effort by educators, the military, businesses, government and NGO’s working together. Otherwise we will leave positions unfilled, young people without jobs and a national skills gap crisis that continues to worsen. Nestlé has taken a great step and I look forward to other major players making a similar top to bottom commitment.

Be a part of the ongoing conversation, follow us on Twitter @noskillsgap and visit bridgingamericasgap.org to learn more about our commitment to closing the gap.

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