walmart newWalmart’s announcement yesterday that it would offer jobs to veterans may well be a good business move as well as a way to bolster its recently tarnished image. A strike last October by Walmart workers in California extended to the day after Thanksgiving at locations across the U.S. The protests were chiefly over wages and working conditions.

Walmart said it would offer a job to any honorably discharged veteran in his or her first 12 months off duty. It expects to hire up to 100,000 veterans in the next five years. “Hiring a veteran can be one of the best business decisions you make,” said Bill Simon, the company’s U.S. president and CEO, in yesterday’s announcement. He noted that veterans have a record of performance under pressure, and are quick learners and team players. He also sees them as “leaders with discipline, training and a passion for service.” Walmart today needs the “seriousness and sense of purpose that the military instills,” he added.

Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, feels veterans bring “personal discipline.” Matthew Bidwell, Wharton management professor, rates Walmart’s move as a “great initiative” from a company with reputation issues. Below are excerpts of comments from Cappelli and Bidwell on Walmart’s announcement:

Knowledge at WhartonToday: Are there good business reasons for a company to hire veterans, or does it serve mostly as a public relations gesture?

Cappelli: It does both. The jobs Walmart has are not ones that require a lot of skill. What they require is personal discipline, and veterans are more likely to have that.

Bidwell: I think it is a PR gesture and something that may well support the business. Veterans may often have developed important skills in the military, and they represent an important pool of labor. Walmart’s size combined with its high turnover rate mean that it always needs to hire large numbers of employees. Going to veterans as an important source makes sense. Of course, they would have been hiring a lot of veterans anyway. What is interesting is that it is offering to hire any veteran who wants a job. That’s what is eye catching here. 

Knowledge at WhartonToday: Do veterans bring some special qualities? Are they particularly suitable for functions like HR or quality control? 

Cappelli: I don’t think Walmart is thinking about [tying] all its jobs to this promise. I’m sure it refers to front-line workers in stores. [“Most of these jobs will be in Walmart stores and clubs, and some will be in distribution centers and the Home Office,” says the Walmart statement.] 

Bidwell: Obviously the military trains very well for some roles. It’s worth remembering how broad the military is, though, in terms of all the jobs that it encompasses. That makes it quite hard to generalize. 

Knowledge at WhartonToday: Is there a downside, however small, to hiring veterans? 

Cappelli: None that I see. Veterans are like other people, just pre-screened and given experiences that create personal discipline. There are veterans who have problems associated with combat, but there are non-vets with problems as well. 

Bidwell: None. One other point: This is a great initiative by Walmart, but/and it comes from a firm that generally has a poor reputation on employment issues. On the one hand, this could help to improve its image. On the other hand, it would be even better if a firm that was known for treating its employees better was showing this interest in veterans. 

Knowledge at WhartonToday: Will veterans need special training to work in the corporate sector? 

Cappelli: There isn’t a lot of training in these jobs, for veterans or non-veterans. 

Bidwell: Corporate life and the different nature of authority and obedience can take some getting used to. Most people, however, don’t have too much trouble with that.