Veterans Can't Find Jobs. This Entrepreneur Wants to Change That

Veterans Can't Find Jobs. This Entrepreneur Wants to Change That

Military veterans seeking jobs wait in line to meet a job recruiter during the Recruit Military Career Fair March 19, 2009, at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Hundreds of military veterans attended the career fair that was open only to veterans.

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You wouldn’t think ex–special forces intelligence officer Zach Vance would struggle to find work. With such a specialized background, it would seem he’d be an instantly appealing candidate for employers. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

“It was a stressful time,” admits his wife, Heidi, who was pregnant with their first child during Zach’s long job search. “Looking at his résumé, he had everything right — but people weren’t hiring him.”

Vance sent his résumé to a local software company on three separate occasions, only to be ignored. So when he noticed an executive from that company dining at the table next to him and Heidi in a restaurant one day, he decided to make his move.

After quietly prepping Heidi, they went into action. “I started talking loudly about the company,” Zach says, “and the guy turned around with his friend, another executive.” Having gotten their attention, Heidi then began playing up her husband’s strengths, talking about his MBA and special forces training. The next day, Zach had an email asking him to come in for an interview. Luck and a bold move got him his first civilian role, and he quickly proved himself. It wasn’t long before he’d launched a new e-payment product that was so successful, other software companies began approaching him for advice. Vance realized the he could go into business for himself as a consultant.

Employers wrongly assume veterans don’t have the right experience.

That became a reality when he met Phil Potter, another veteran, who was looking to launch a startup incubator exclusively for veteran entrepreneurs. As Potter points out, they are uniquely suited to entrepreneurship. “I was stunned at the level of talent I worked with when I was in uniform,” he says. “They form small teams and achieve a mission and have this ability to persevere. Entrepreneurs have to have that too.” It’s no wonder that one in four veterans coming out of the military start their own business.

Potter’s vision came into focus in late 2016 when he opened The Armory in downtown Phoenix, which included a new payment network consulting company founded by Vance. The co-working space quickly became home for 10 veteran-led startups, and, as an incubator, also provided networking opportunities, training in financial and business skills, and introductions to capital sources. The idea soon caught the attention of investors, and The Armory acquired a lead corporate sponsor: JPMorgan Chase. “The veterans we’ve seen have all been extremely disciplined, focused and have an incredibly strong work ethic,” says Noreen Bishop, a private wealth manager at the firm who also coordinates its philanthropic efforts with veterans in the Phoenix region.

Today, The Armory is taking off, and creating more programs by the day to help veterans navigate operating and financing small businesses. Potter recently launched the year-long Startups Speaker Series, and set up a mentoring program whereby executives give veterans business operations advice.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs predicts the country will have almost 2 million veterans under age 34 by 2020 — a staggering number of working-age people to be facing additional setbacks. Entrepreneurial efforts can’t erase disparities between military and corporate cultures — or the lack of appreciation for veterans’ transferable skills — and not every veteran can be expected to start their own business.

But the examples set by veteran entrepreneurs who are determinedly creating their own chances can perhaps throw a ray of light on the subject. If veterans use the skills that come naturally to them — keeping a trained eye on the target, going the extra mile — it might help them in the pursuit of employment.

“I have felt the pain,” Zach says, “but I knew that if I could just get in front of someone, I could show them all I have to offer.”