U.S. service members receive some of the best technical and management training and experience in the world, but when they return to civilian life, they are often overlooked as job candidates because employers don't give them credit for their skills, First Lady Michelle Obama said Thursday.
"Members of our military master state-of-the-art technologies -- some of the most advanced information and medical and communications systems in the world. They run the world's most complex operations -- distributing supplies to thousands of locations, moving tons of equipment halfway across the globe," she said in her keynote address at the Clinton Global Initiative 2010 annual meeting in New York.
"And many of them are barely old enough to vote, yet they shoulder more responsibility than many CEOs, undertaking missions where there's no margin for error, where the bottom line is often a matter of life or death.
"Now these are highly valuable, highly transferable, highly marketable skills -- skills that I know many businesses, including those represented here today, are desperate to find. Yet the fact is that right now, more than 150,000 recent veterans are still struggling to find jobs."
But employers too often view a resume with multiple jobs as a red flag rather than as a fact of military life, Mrs. Obama said.
The message represents a small expansion of one of Mrs. Obama's signature projects, helping veterans and the spouses and families of active military.
The conference is an outgrowth of the organization former President Bill Clinton created in 2005, each year attracting global leaders and top executives from the non-profit, corporate and non-governmental organization worlds.
Mrs. Obama used her stage to target her message in particular to groups assisting in disaster relief, road building in developing countries and managing teams of volunteers -- technical and management tasks routinely handled in the military.
A problem for many veterans is getting their military resumes translated into terms civilians can understand and appreciate, Mrs. Obama said. Citing a survey -- she did not identify which one -- she said that 61 percent of employers "admitted" they did not understand what veterans had to offer.
Mrs. Obama highlighted a specific problem for veterans: difficulty in building seniority because the military requires frequent moves and the logistical inability to keep up with state licensing and certification requirement.
"And while most folks share my respect and admiration for their service, a lot of folks have no idea what that service actually entails. Many still don't know the full power of their human potential."
Mrs. Obama said she pledged "as part of my ongoing efforts to encourage people to support our veterans and military families, I will do my part to connect you with advocates, with experts and with resources throughout the government, from the Department of Labor to the Defense Department to the VA. If you have questions about how a veteran's or spouse's skills fit with the jobs you have, we will help you find the answers. If your staff wants to better understand the challenges that vets and military spouses face and how to address them, we will connect you to the right people.
"And today I promise to continue to use my platform as First Lady to bring people together around this issue. I'll work to spark not just a national conversation, but national action to give our vets and military spouses the opportunities they deserve."
Asked how exactly these goals to help vets and spouses were going to be accomplished, an East Wing official told Politics Daily that Mrs. Obama plans to bolster and leverage existing programs at the CGI and within the U.S. government and non-governmental groups.
Mrs. Obama also plans to engage -- it is not clear how or when -- the business and non-profit communities to tear down barriers to employment.
An official told Politics Daily, "The administration has a range of programs helping veterans and military spouses find jobs and develop career skills. In addition, the First Lady has a strong network of military family and veteran non-profits and advocates that she and her office is in regular touch with. We will leverage these relationships to help those employers interested in engaging vets and spouses, taking action and reduce barriers to being helpful."
FOOTNOTE: President Obama introduced Mrs. Obama at the forum. Both lavished praised President Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, bitter rivals of Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Said Mrs. Obama, "I also want to thank President Clinton for inviting us here today and for the example he's setting not just as a private citizen making a difference in the world as only he can, but also, as Barack said, as a father who, along with his brilliant wife, has raised such a wonderful daughter in the White House. And living there, now I know that that's a feat, and it is one my husband and I are doing our best to try to match. We're trying to follow their example every day."