Remarks by The First Lady at Joining Forces Employment Event
2:07 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Good afternoon, everyone. (Applause.) I see we have some “Take Our Daughters To Work” people here. (Laughter.) Yay for taking our daughters to work! (Applause.)
Let me start by thanking April, as well as Tamika, for that wonderful, very kind introduction, and for her outstanding service to our country. I also want to thank everyone here at Micron for hosting us today, and for letting us destroy your factory -- (laughter) -- as well as all the business owners, the government leaders, and, of course, our veterans and military families who have joined us for this event.
And before I go any further, there is somebody I just want to take a moment to recognize from my team, and that is Colonel Steve Parker. Where is Steve Parker? (Applause.) Yes, I’m going to embarrass you for a moment. Steve is in the back of the room.
Steve has been our Executive Director for Joining Forces for the past year. We only get our executive directors for a short period of time, and it’s always amazing how much they can accomplish in a year. But unfortunately, Steve is going to be leaving us at the end of the month for an assignment at the National Defense University. He’s been such a terrific leader on this initiative. He is a funny guy. He’s warm. (Laughter.) He’s one of the few men in my office, so he takes a lot of ribbing, but he does it with good humor. (Laughter.)
So we’re going to really be sad to see him go. But we wish Steve -- Steve, we wish you the best, as well as your wife and your beautiful kids. And come and see us, all right? Let’s give Steve a round of applause. Thank you, Steve. Great job. (Applause.)
So today is a little bittersweet, but I’m still very excited to be here today because this month, as you know, we’re celebrating the fourth anniversary of Joining Forces.
Now, when Jill Biden and I launched this initiative, we did it because of the veterans and military families we were meeting all across the country –- folks like many of you here today, servicemembers who step up every time our country calls, veterans who continue to give back long after they hang up that uniform, and of course, our military spouses and our military kids who serve bravely right alongside of their loved ones.
So we issued a call to people all across the country. We challenged folks to ask themselves one simple question: “What can I do to honor these families who have given us so much?” And we were overwhelmed by the response we received. Everyone stepped up.
The medical community stepped up to take care of mental health issues. Hundreds of mayors committed to end veteran homelessness in their cities. Schools have reached out to our military children. And Americans of all walks of life have served their communities in honor of our military families.
On issue after issue, we have seen people across this country line up to support these families. And that’s especially true when it comes to the issue of employment.
Now, it’s easy to lose sight of how far we’ve come since we launched Let’s Move -- Joining Forces -- (laughter) -- I’m here today. (Laughter.) Really, I’m here. But we launched Joining Forces in 2011, but that year that we launched, the unemployment rate for our 9/11 generation of veterans was more than 12 percent. And for our youngest veterans, it was far worse -– almost one in three who wanted to work couldn’t find work.
So we knew we had a crisis on our hands. And that’s why, just a few months after we launched Joining Forces, my husband challenged the private sector to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses. And it was a big goal, but we were determined to meet it.
So we sat down with companies in every sector all across the country. I spoke to the CEOs of the nation’s largest companies at the Business Roundtable. And everywhere we went, we told folks about the skill and the character and the resilience that define our veterans and military spouses. And then more -- as the businesses learned more about these amazing men and women, the more eager they were to hire them. And soon enough, they were telling us about how veterans and spouses were excelling in their companies; how they were getting promotion after promotion and inspiring their colleagues with their talent and with their determination.
So companies were seeing for themselves that hiring these our military members and our spouses wasn’t simply the patriotic thing to do, it was the right thing to do for their bottom line. And today, less than four years later, I am proud to announce that America’s businesses have continued to race past my husband’s initial goal, and together, those businesses who answered the President’s call have hired or trained more than 850,000 veterans and military spouses -- outstanding. (Applause.)
And that number comes on top of the hiring that we’ve done in the federal government. Right now, about 30 percent of the federal workforce is made up of veterans. And in part because of those efforts, altogether, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans has fallen by almost five points. And for those youngest veterans, it’s been cut by almost half from its peak.
So this is an amazing accomplishment. It really is. And I am so grateful to everyone across this country who made it possible, many of whom were working to hire our veterans long before we launched Joining Forces.
So we should all take a moment today to sit back and feel good about what we’ve achieved together. But we should only sit back for a moment, because we know that there is so much work left to do, and that includes connecting our vets not just with any job, but with good jobs –- jobs you can raise a family on, the kind of high-growth jobs of the future.
And that’s one of the reasons why I’m here today, because we know sectors like technology and energy are driving our economic growth. These are industries full of good, high-paying positions where our vets can continue to thrive for years and even decades to come. So once again, we reached out to companies throughout these industries and asked what they could do for our veterans and spouses, and they stepped up to answer the call.
And today, I’m thrilled to announce a series of wonderful commitments to hire or train a total of 90,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years from these industries. We’ve got some of the biggest names in tech –- companies like CompTIA, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle. We’ve got folks from renewable energy, our national energy labs, and the Energy Facility Contractors Group. We’ve got folks from other industries as well -– utility companies, our transportation section [sector]. And so many more have stepped up.
Now, these companies know that many of the jobs they’re hiring for require specialized training, so in many cases, they’re not just hiring these veterans, they’re actually partnering with a variety of educational institutions to create internships and apprenticeships and job-training programs. That’s what they’re doing here at Micron.
Micron is one of the world’s largest producers of memory storage devices –- I got to see some of the cool stuff upstairs. It’s very cool. (Laughter.) I hope you saw it. It’s cool, for all the daughters going to work. They make many of the microchips and other products that connect us through our computers and cellphones and our other devices. But before they can create these wonderful products, they need to hire smart, skilled folks of all -- for all sorts of positions. And they know that there’s no one better to have on their team than a veteran.
So Micron is participating in a pilot program through the Northern Virginia Technology Council that matches student veterans at local universities and community colleges to 50 high-tech companies throughout the area. So the veterans get hands-on experience, and the companies connect with a pipeline of top-notch talent.
And this is just one of the many win-win partnerships happening all across the country. The solar industry offers another example. That sector is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy. And that’s why, earlier this month, my husband announced a significant expansion of our successful pilot program to train transitioning servicemembers for careers in solar jobs. And today, solar companies are doing their part to make sure that there’s a job waiting for those vets when they leave the military -- the Solar Energy Industries Association is pledging to hire or train 33,000 veterans and spouses over the next five years.
Now, because the vast majority of these solar companies are small or medium-size businesses, many of their commitments are smaller -- a few hundred, maybe even a few dozen hires. Small business commitments like these are happening not just in solar, but in manufacturing and tech, and so many other industries. And the great thing about these smaller commitments is that when you add them all up, even if it’s just a handful of employees, they can have a huge collective impact. As we’re seeing today, altogether, these small companies are planning to hire tens of thousands of veterans and military spouses.
So today, I want to call on all companies across our country -– companies in every industry and of every shape and size –- to do their part to provide even more opportunities for our military families.
I want you to keep asking yourselves that same question we posed four years ago: “What can I do to give back to our veterans and their families?” Can you make a commitment, or another commitment if you’ve already made one, to hire more veterans and military spouses? Can you partner with a local school or veterans service organization on job-training opportunities? There are so many ways you can make a difference, whether you’re a multinational name-brand, or a startup that’s just getting off the ground.
I want to use the example of a veteran I just met today, Wayne Stilwell. Now, Wayne was in the Army for 26 years, serving in Bosnia and Desert Storm, before he retired in 2013. And his specialty was military simulations -– the high-tech computer programs that we use to train our troops in the field. While he was in the Army, he earned degrees in business, industrial engineering, and he even earned a PhD in systems engineering.
So when he hung up his uniform, he launched a startup called Stilwell Technology and Robotics, where he’s designing software to help robots work together to do a physical task, anything from helping senior citizens get out of bed, to providing security at a schoolyard, or managing the harvest of an entire field of crops. Right now, his business is still in the early stages. He’s got three part-time employees and a team of nine paid interns -- and he’s not yet taking a salary for himself.
But that’s not stopping Wayne from giving back to his fellow veterans. Starting this summer, he’s committing to bring on at least one veteran as an intern and hire one veteran as a full-time employee within a year. And he’s doing this because he knows that these are exactly the kind of folks he needs to help grow his business. And he wants to give them that hands-on experience they’ll need to grow a business of their own someday.
And this is something that we see again and again -- veterans are constantly reaching out to other veterans. They’re training each other. They’re mentoring each other. They’re hiring each other.
So all those veterans and military spouses we’ve already hired across the country, I mean, just think about it -- who knows how many other veterans or spouses they’ve helped? Who knows the kind of new ideas and relationships and experiences they’re bringing to the table every day?
That’s the kind of ripple effect that hiring even just one veteran can have for you, your company, and ultimately, for our country. So essentially, that’s my message for businesses across America today. We can do more. And more is needed.
But I want to thank all of the business leaders here today for leading the way by committing to the men and women who have worn our uniform. You all are a shining example of what is possible.
And to all the troops, veterans and spouses who are here with us today, I just want to thank you. I can’t thank you enough, this nation can’t thank you enough for your service. Because what you do is rare. What you do is needed. What you do is special. And I want you to know that we’re nowhere near the finish line. We are not done. Joining Forces is a long-term commitment to you and to your families, and we’re going to do whatever we can to serve you as well as you’ve served us.
So thank you all. We are proud of you. We’re proud of the work that’s going on here and in companies across this country. And let’s just keep it up.
You all, thank you so much. And God bless. (Applause.)
2:23 P.M. EDT