Wal-Mart Offers Jobs To Any New Veterans With An Honorable Discharge

Wal-Mart is embarking on a major initiative to hire some veterans. They must apply within 12 months of leaving active duty and have an honorable discharge. The company projects it will hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years.

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Wal-Mart said today that it will soon begin offering a job to any newly discharged veteran who wants one. The offer comes at a time when new veterans are having a tough time finding work. Also, Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon promised the company will increase the amount of products it buys from domestic sources.

NPR's Jim Zarroli tells us more about both announcements.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: A lot of U.S. companies have programs to hire veterans but none has made the kind of commitment that Wal-Mart made today. Speaking at a National Retail Federation convention in New York, Simon said that starting on Memorial Day, Wal-Mart would guarantee a job to any veteran who was honorably discharged within the past year.

BILL SIMON: We know not every veteran wants to work in retail and that's OK. But every veteran who does will have a place to go. And we project that we'll hire more than 100,000 veterans over the next five years.

ZARROLI: Simon says most of the jobs will be in Wal-Mart stores and discount clubs. Wal-Mart's offer comes at a time when the company is still reeling from reports of bribery in Mexico. And more recently, it's faced protests over gun sales at its stores. But Wal-Mart has a history of hiring vets that predates those controversies.

And Phillip Carter of the Center for a New American Security says Wal-Mart's program ought to make a difference to those veterans who are struggling to find work.

PHILLIP CARTER: The veterans who are are the younger, junior enlisted personnel who separate and don't yet have a college degree, and don't have the workforce experience they need to get a job. Wal-Mart's effort goes after those veterans. And I think that many will take advantage of this.

ZARROLI: Carter says Wal-Mart is a big logistics company and, in some ways, so is the military. So the giant retailer is a good fit for vets. On the other hand, he notes that Wal-Mart is unlikely to offer new vets the pay and benefits they're used to and need to raise a family.

Simon also made a second promise at the convention. He said Wal-Mart would commit to spending $50 billion more on domestic sources of products over the next decade.

SIMON: Through our buying power, we can give manufacturers the confidence to invest capital here in the United States, and play a role in revitalizing the communities that we all serve.

ZARROLI: Simon didn't provide a lot of details but he said the money would go toward a range of U.S.-made products, such as sporting goods, apparel, games, paper products and high-end appliances. But not everyone is impressed.

CHARLES FISHMAN: It does not represent a huge commitment.

ZARROLI: Charles Fishman, author of the book "The Wal-Mart Effect," notes $50 billion a decade works out to $5 billion a year, a small fraction of Wal-Mart's $260 billion in annual retail sales. Fishman also notes that Wal-Mart has been a big purchaser of Chinese-made goods over the years.

FISHMAN: There was a very powerful business logic behind that: it's cheaper over there and we like things cheaper. I don't see the business logic in simply saying we're going to try and persuade people to make stuff here.

ZARROLI: But Wal-Mart officials say they believe the economies of manufacturing are changing, and they expect more U.S. companies to bring some of their production back home. And Simon told the audience this morning that retailers such as Wal-Mart can play a role in making that happen a bit faster.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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