News and analysis
March 23, 2015

Starbucks's Schultz Opens New Front in Helping Veterans Enter Work Force

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, and his wife Sheri meet with service members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
While many employers have committed to hiring veterans, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is leading a push to train soldiers for civilian jobs even before they leave military service.

His latest effort, Onward to Opportunity effort, was announced last week. The Schultz Family Foundation committed $1.7 million to provide job-skills training to 10,000 service members and spouses on as many as six military bases in 2015. The idea is to patch professional-competencies gaps that researchers and veterans service providers say make it difficult for members of the military to transition smoothly into other work.

The money is a slice of a $30 million pledge the foundation made last year to military and veterans causes.

Daniel Pitasky, executive director of the Schultz Family Foundation, declined to say what the annual funding for Onward to Opportunity would be after the inaugural year but described the program as a multiyear investment.

"If done right, I think it is a game-changer," says Mr. Pitasky, adding that it will provide America’s employers access to one of the country’s greatest national assets, its veterans.

Post-9/11 conflicts have produced 3.2 million U.S. veterans. They had a 7.2 percent unemployment rate in 2014, while the jobless rate for all veterans was 5.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Currently, the overall national unemployment rate is 5.5 percent.

In addition to Starbucks, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase have signed on. The idea is for Onward to Opportunity to dovetail with the corporations’ existing efforts to train and hire transitioning military personnel. Microsoft, for example, has been providing software development training to active-duty members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington since 2013.

Engaging Earlier

Under Onward to Opportunity, the on-site programming will be coordinated by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, which already runs training programs that served 24,000 active-duty military, veterans, and family members last year.

"For many years, we have talked and talked about this idea of how to move the private sector’s engagement more upstream from the point of transition such that the private sector is a meaningful partner in preparing our service members for the transition to civilian employment," says Mike Haynie, executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

The training will initially focus on two areas: customer service and technology.

It is difficult to compare the environment awaiting today’s military veterans with those of past eras, Mr. Haynie says. In the years following World War II, most men in the country had served, creating a shared national narrative. Post-9/11 vets are culturally isolated, Mr. Haynie says. The long-running conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been fought by an all-volunteer force: Less than 1 percent of Americans have worn a uniform in the last 12 years.

Many modern service members leave the military with strong skills in areas like information technology and cybersecurity, Mr. Haynie says. But often they lack the civilian credentials and certifications required to get hired. The gap means employers miss out on great job candidates, and veterans miss out on meaningful, high-paying work, Mr. Haynie says.

In March 2014, the Schultz Family Foundation said it would spend $30-million on helping military service members prepare for, and transition to, civilian life. The money is to be concentrated on three fronts: health, employment, and family life.

In an interview with CBS News at the time, Mr. Schultz said that the government does a better job of sending people off to war than bringing them back.

"These young men and women who are coming home from multiple deployments are not coming home to a parade," Mr. Schultz said. "They are not coming home to a celebration. They are coming home to an American public that really doesn’t understand and never embraced what these people have done."

Last week’s announcement, along with Mr. Schultz’s other social efforts, further raises his profile as an advocate for veterans issues. It could also help fuel speculation about a possible presidential run. (Mr. Schultz said in a recent interview with Time magazine that he wasn’t interested in public office.)

He has committed to adding 10,000 veterans and military spouses to the Starbucks payrolls within five years. He helped organize a Veterans Day concert on the National Mall that featured artists including Rihanna and Metallica.

Also late last year, Mr. Schultz published a book titled For Love of Country," in which he and his coauthor, Washington Post editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran, tell the stories of 10 service members and their families.

Send an e-mail to Megan O’Neil.