TiVo’s Fix For Jobless Veterans
Many companies have college interns. Why not for men and women back from combat?
By TOM ROGERS AND TOM WOLZIEN
They are everywhere, but we don’t usually see them—the nearly 300,000 of the 2.4 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are without work. That’s a 12% unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a veteran recently told us, “It’s like people say, ‘Thank you for your service . . . but don’t ask me for a job.'”
They deserve better. So this past spring at TiVo we filled a conference room with veterans on staff and said, “We’re not doing enough for people getting out of the military. Figure it out.” Those veterans of wars going back to Vietnam took 90 minutes to conceive and design a paid annual internship program for women and men just getting out of the military, or who have recently finished school after service.
The TiVo Summer Veterans Intern Program (TiVets) is based on two ideas. First: Since we have internships for college students, why not vets? Second, a résumé credential “buffer,” such as the internship, answers the critical question of whether a veteran can successfully transition to civilian employment.
We match each veteran with two mentors, one of them a veteran. The mentors, along with a college intern, keep tabs on the performance of the vets, and on any other issues that might arise. There haven’t been any.
Working with military bases and veterans groups near Silicon Valley, TiVo developed a list of more than 200 potential candidates for internships. Ten vets were eventually selected. Then our engineering and operations division connected the interns with the right positions. The first class of interns started in June.
We went into the experiment not expecting to hire any of the interns, but we will be hiring a number of them, and the line managers want to hire many more when positions become available.
The veterans adapted quickly to our corporate culture and in some cases brought military-type accountability to operations that had never looked to adopt that sort of discipline. They have proven their abilities and shown dedication and commitment. Those hired won’t need an extensive amount of time for training, as is necessary for most new employees.
A number of other companies do make efforts to support veterans, but unfortunately the current job market isn’t yielding a great deal of hiring. Yet an internship program like TiVo’s costs companies very little. It is the commitment to making it work that truly matters, giving a veteran that first step into the private sector that could lead to permanent employment.
Our first class of veteran interns included people who have traumatic brain injuries from improvised explosive devices and other physical disabilities. Some disclosed having low-level post-traumatic stress disorder. This is unsurprising: 25% of vets from the post-9/11 era are disabled, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet the disabilities have not been a factor in the performance of our interns.
The interns themselves tell us that the program means a great deal to them. Many have experienced being turned down repeatedly for positions because their formal education didn’t match the rigid “check-the-box” approach of most companies, and they had no private-sector experience to offer. There is rarely a place on an application to talk about managing millions of dollars of equipment and dozens of people—or making crucial judgments under the pressure of conditions never experienced in the civilian workplace. These experiences matter to our company.
The most touching story we’ve heard came from a vet who came home from deployment in Afghanistan and was discharged last Christmas. She had never looked for a job and had no idea where to start. The Army was her career. She was, she said, at the end of her rope when the TiVo internship opportunity came along. Now her confidence is back and she knows how to talk the talk of Silicon Valley—she’s not speaking “military” anymore.
America has asked many men and women to protect the country while making huge sacrifices along the way. But when their military careers wrap up, they are often not trained adequately to change careers, and too few companies are making use of the tremendous life skills developed during combat tours.
We didn’t know what to expect from this program, so it is easy to say that it exceeded expectations. As our first class nears completion, we intend to maintain this program and certainly hope other companies will try their own versions. The veteran-intern program has done far more for both the veterans and TiVo than we ever expected.
Mr. Rogers is the CEO of TiVo Inc. Mr. Wolzien, a Vietnam veteran, is the lead independent director of TiVo’s board of directors.
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