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As the U.S. military withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan, more than a quarter of a million military members are expected to leave active service over the next five years. This transition comes at a time when unemployment for veterans is above the national average, according to the Labor Department. To help address the high numbers of employment, the Small Business Administration and the Department of Defense are working together to offer training and assistance to veterans who decide to start their own businesses.
“We expect between 13,000 and 15,000 of those folks every year will look at small business opportunities as a serious opportunity for them,” said James Schmeling, Managing Director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). “Veterans have typically started businesses at twice the rate of non-veterans and they’ve sustained those businesses at four times the rate of non-veterans, historically going back to World War II.”
Donna Sanders, the founder of 106 Greenway in Kansas City says launching her energy efficiency auditing business in the past year has been the hardest thing she’s ever done, even harder than her 8 years in the Marines.
“Everybody in the military, at least in the Marine Corps, operates at a very high level,” she said. Having to learn that the rest of the world does not operate with military precisions can be frustrating to returning veterans. “I’ve learned a lot of patience, basically.”
Veterans often find the skills they learned in the Armed Forces prepare them for running a business.
“Uncertainty is a part of the lifestyle, and you really have to embrace that as an entrepreneur,” says Justin Ashton, co-founder of XL Hybrids.
Already possessing an engineering degree and training from business school, he found that the six years he spent as an Air Force intelligence officer really taught him the skills needed to run a business.
“In the military you’re faced with uncertainty in just about every decision you make, when it comes to the combat zone,” he says.
Using both his corporate and veteran networks, Ashton has created a very successful hybrid conversion business. He encourages other veterans to become trained in high-tech manufacturing and other technology fields where jobs are in demand.
“Veterans have the capacity to learn these new skills quickly,” he said. “I think we can go a step further to make sure we train veterans for the jobs of the future and not the jobs of the past.”