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Why you should hire veterans

Stacy Bare, director of Sierra Club Outdoors, is working with a team of Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy fellows to get more vets into the outdoor industry.

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As part of the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy, each participant works on a final project to help improve the outdoor industry. This year, five participants have teamed up with the Sierra Club to the River Leaders Initiative, a program to help industry brands hire veterans. 

Stacy Bare, a veteran and director of Sierra Club Outdoors, explains why this program is needed and what it will accomplish. So far, quite a few companies have signed on as sponsors, including Smartwool, Osprey, Sterling Rope, Farm to Feet, Arc’teryx, Cascade Designs, Black Diamond, and Marmot. 

Stacy Bare
Stacy BareCourtesy

1. Why did you create the River Leaders Initiative?

In our conversations with outdoor industry leaders, we learned that the brands we love want to hire passionate, hard working, team players. Veterans are just that. In conversations with our fellow veterans, we learned that a lot of us want to follow their passions in work and play and are looking to find a way into the outdoor industry. For whatever reason, though, there have been a lot of challenges bridging the gap between veterans and hiring managers in the outdoor industry. So we thought, why not invite both groups together out on the river so they can get to know one another and see what happens.

2. What does the outdoor industry have to gain by hiring more veterans?

Several things. First, diversity. As a group, we represent the totality of the American experience. We’re recent immigrants, Native Americans, men, women, LGBTQ or straight, all religions, etc. Second, we’re typically passionate hard workers who are eager to learn and eager to be a part of a team. Third, not every veteran wants to work on the government sales side or military design, but for those that do, who better to lead those teams? Fourth, loyalty is a value of a lot of vets and certainly a great value to have in any employee. And finally, veterans have used outdoor industry goods in different environments from the typical outdoor consumer, and the insights they have from those experiences can help outdoor brands build better products and help shape their marketing efforts.

3. Why do you think veterans have trouble connecting with the outdoor industry?

It’s all about networking. I don’t think we’ve established the level of networks necessary to create recruiting pipelines from the military to the outdoor industry, despite what seems to me like an obvious fit. Part of that is the size of the outdoor industry. Companies are smaller than in other sectors, and many brands might want to hire just one or two folks at a time rather than the big banks, insurance companies, and online retailers who are interested in hiring 20, 50, 100 or more folks at a time. So its more about fit than other industries with larger players. I think, though, the better question is, why does the outdoor industry have a hard time connecting with veterans?

4. How did the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy help you?

It helped to answer many of the questions above. The team of future leaders from so many different brands and perspectives has been so collaborative as we figure out how to support two communities I’m a part of and deeply passionate about — the outdoors and the veteran community.

4. What can other brands do to get involved in this initiative?

Brands can reach out directly to the River Leaders team via email: