A group of industry members has created the Jewelers for Veterans Foundation, a new organization devoted to finding jobs in the jewelry industry for returning servicemen and women.
Chairman Ralph Destino, the former head of the Gemological Institute of America and Cartier, tells JCK the fledgling group was spurred by reports that the unemployment rate for people who fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is 12.1 percent, far above the current national rate of 8.3 percent.
“We have all these servicemen and women can’t get a job,” he says. “It’s a disgrace. These people volunteered to serve their country and did two and sometimes three and four tours of duty overseas. So we decided that we could do something as an industry. It’s not going to make a vast dent in the unemployment rate, but it’s something we could do.”
Destino is now working with industry schools like GIA, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the Rhode Island School of Design, many of whom have already pledged to help train former members of the military.
“Most of the education will be covered by the GI Bill,” he says. “If there are instances when the GI Bill doesn’t cover it, then Jewelers for Veterans will pay out of its own pocket.”
He has also reached out to the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and recently spoke about opportunities in the jewelry industry at a veterans career day in New York, which drew 4,000 applicants.
“We have to plant the seed everywhere,” he says. “We have to make sure the veterans know we exist.”
Destino eventually envisions an industry “career fair,” devoted solely to former military members, as well as a database of industry jobs and interested applicants.
“We are going to work with the various organizations to find jobs and training for these people,” he says, noting that he has already received calls from companies with openings.
Destino argues that former GIs are “eminently trainable.”
“They learned the discipline involved in the military,” he says. “So they are already have a history of learning something new.”
Congressman David Ceciline (D-R.I.) has expressed interest in the group’s cause, Destino says, especially since it dovetails with his desire to bring manufacturing back to his state.
John A. Politi Jr., an industry member who has worked at the American Gem Society and the American Assay & Gemological Office, is now serving as the group’s executive director. Color Craft president Todd Wolleman is its president.
“We are taking baby steps, but we have high hopes to make a real impact,” Destino says. “We just think that instead of just saying, ‘This is terrible,’ our industry should do something.”
The group recently launched a website, which can be seen here. The Foundation will also hold a cocktail party at the upcoming JCK show in Las Vegas.