Google is aiming its search-engine horsepower at homecoming veterans, launching Thursday what may be the largest online hub to help men and women exiting the military as American armed forces draw down.
Called VetNet, the site offers veterans three distinct “tracks” to plot and organize their next life moves – from “basic training” which aids job hunters to “career connections” which links users to corporate mentors and other working veterans to “entrepreneur” which offers a roadmap to starting a business.
To arm the new site with some heavy-hitting experts, Google partnered with three leading nonprofits in the veteran-employment space: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and Hire Heroes USA.
“We asked: What else can we be doing with our technology to help these folks transition home?” said Carrie Laureno, founder of the Google Veterans Network, the company’s employee-volunteer community which seeks to make Google a military-friendly work environment.
“We wanted to really move the needle in the right direction. And working with our three partners, we asked: What can we do together to help you reach more people?” Laureno said. “How do we help these millions of people who are in this situation get the resources they need (to land civilian jobs) in a much easier, more straightforward way that’s ever been possible before?”
After clicking a button to connect with VetNet, users gain access to a weekly snapshot of “what’s happening” in the veteran-employment arena as well as to a ready group of business advisers and to an ongoing array of virtual “hangouts” that train people on basics from resume writing to making “elevator pitches” or that allow veterans to hear insights from leaders in retail, transportation, retail and entrepreneurship, Laureno said.
The venture drew a favorable review Thursday from a key congressional member.
“I am especially pleased to see companies like Google and their partners take the initiative to bring together these various resources to help veterans navigate the employment opportunities together,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“I am confident their combined efforts will be especially helpful to those who may not know where to start their job search. This is the least we can all do for our veterans who have served our nation so honorably,” Miller said in an email.
Miller’s words hint at the fresh irony of post-war life for thousands of ex-service members: Their initial challenge is not a lack of help; it is the over-abundance of nonprofits seeking to guide veterans from their once-super-structured schedules and tight packs of buddies to the wide-open, ultra-competitive job market.
According to an April 2012 study by the Center for a New American Security, more than 40,000 nonprofit groups now exist in this country with missions focused on filling the various needs of active-duty troops, veterans and their families.
That giant-yet-fragmented bundle of organizations — while striving to do well by veterans — must also battle for the same funding dollars. And that jostling hasn’t fostered a cohesive landscape for veterans to navigate as they begin their new career journeys, Laureno said. Given that mish-mash of helping hands, some veterans simply don’t know where to go first.
“I’ve heard occasionally people (in the veteran-helping field) use the word ‘competitors.’ They are competing for funds. They are competing for awareness. They are competing to be in the spotlight,” Laureno said. “It’s also a well-documented issue in this community that there are some people, just like anything else, who got involved because wanted to help but that emerged as sort of looking for press.
“The founding partners here are not of that ilk. These are partners who have stuck with their original mission, who are focused on getting the help out to the people who need it, and who recognize that technology can help them take that help to a completely different level than ever before possible,” she added.
Google and VetNet are hoping to attract new partners from that sea of 40,000 groups. But they’re still hammering out the best ways to assess prospective collaborators — and their larger intensions — before they are invited to join, Laureno said.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges all of us are facing in this issue, and that’s why there has been this proliferation of 40,000-plus (veterans organizations),” she said. “We are going to need to have a some sort of vetting process. That is something the partners are working on right now: What will be the criteria they use to judge who comes on board and who doesn’t?
“Anyone who would like to get involved, who has effective services, and who is willing to make the commitment to providing them on this platform who will be supportive of the community, they’re all welcome,” she added. “But if somebody wants to advertise on a one-off basis about their particular program, this probably isn’t the right place for them.”
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