For members of the military-connected community, the civilian workforce can prove daunting whether you’re among the 200,000 members transitioning out of the military each year or the spouse of an active duty member who has had to move frequently with new deployments and have your career disrupted.
To address these challenges, Walmart has made it a priority to hire veterans and military spouses. But the retail giant is taking its commitment to another level with a new program called Find-a-Future. It’s an online platform designed to offer veterans and military spouses support in setting goals for professional aspirations and providing the resources to achieve them.
The program comes one year after Walmart exceeded a benchmark of hiring 250,000 veterans, a commitment it made in 2013.
“It’s this amazing quantitative achievement but at the time, we realized we needed to be a little more qualitative in our delivery in what we are offering to folks,” says Brynt Parmeter, Senior Director of Military & STEM Programs at Walmart.
The retired U.S. Army Colonel says Walmart re-envisioned its strategy. “As opposed to being primarily focused on employment outcomes, we wanted to be more focused on economic opportunity and well-being outcomes in a holistic way,” adds Parmeter.
There’s also a payoff for Walmart. The retail giant, says Parmeter, believes the strategy will lead to increased retention and promotions over time.
Online Career Platform Serves the Military-Connected Community
Find-a-Future was officially launched in late June and has already had more than one-thousand people register. The idea is to first connect users with coaches to audit skill levels, education, and experience, and then begin conversations about goals and the paths to reach them.
That may mean employment opportunities at Walmart. For veterans and military spouses wanting to be entrepreneurs, it could mean training for starting or growing their own businesses.
A third outcome is an education path that may mean an associate getting a traditional degree while they are working at Walmart or getting skills training through the Walmart Live Better U employee education benefit.
For example, Parmeter cites a range of upskilling programs from project management and human resources certifications to specialized roles. “We are very interested in Walmart in helping people go into these roles you might not think about whether it’s to become an optometry technician or a pharmacy technician in our health side of the business.”
To provide these resources, Walmart connects veterans, members of the National Guard, and military spouses with external partners that include the Student Veterans of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes program, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).
Upskilling to a Career Path
“Basically, we take them on, take them under our wings,” says Kimberly Keller, user experience manager at IVMF, a no-cost career prep and employment program that trains and assists veterans and spouses. Keller says roughly 50 certification tracks are offered from different industries.
One of the most popular, she says, is project management professional certificates. For this certification, for example, professional work experience is required. Median salaries for project managers, according to The Project Management Institute, is $116,000.
It’s just one of the certification training offerings at IVMF which Keller says also prepares learners for job interviews with the goal of helping veterans and military spouses to “secure meaningful and satisfying employment.”
“We’ve heard time and again that the military community has needs. And they vary across the board. And they know that there are resources and programs and services out there to help them but they don’t always know where to find them,” says Keller.
Finding Work with Purpose
Finding work with purpose took some time for U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jennifer Vollbrecht who served for five years and was a helicopter crew chief and door gunner in Iraq.
She describes “making life and death decisions” at the age of 23, but discovering a different situation entering the civilian workforce in 2009.
“When I got out, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was applying for managerial roles and they were considering me for entry level roles. There was a complete, on my part, lack of sense of direction,” Vollbrecht adds.
She says she found her footing working for a large defense contractor, but says a lightbulb went on when she attended a 10-day entrepreneurship boot camp for veterans through the IVMF in 2013 even though she had no business idea at the time.
“It was life changing. It completely changed my trajectory, opened my eyes and made me realize this was a real possibility for me,” add Vollbrecht. She credits that roadmap for enabling her to start her own project management consulting business in 2019, ten years after leaving the military.
It’s that sense of finding work with purpose and figuring out the roadmap to get there that is behind the Find-a-Future platform that Walmart has created. And as Parmeter acknowledges, the paths may sometimes lead outside of Walmart.
“We know that if we can help somebody figure out their future through this platform—and the relationship isn’t directly as an employee for the future—we are still going to have a paid customer, we are still going to have potentially a business partner in the form of an entrepreneur, entrepreneurially product supplier, or service provider in the future, or a member of a community that is supporting our associates where they live and work,” says Parmeter.
“We think there is a win in so many different ways—both for the individual and the company—with this approach.”