The Walt Disney Company has long supported military service. In fact, that support started nearly a century ago with its founders Roy O. Disney and Walt Disney, who both served during World War I.
Roy O. Disney served in the Navy. While Walt was not old enough to join the military, he volunteered to be a Red Cross ambulance driver, and deployed to France at the tail end of WWI.
“While there, he actually started doodling military insignia,” said Cappy Surette, a Navy veteran who is Senior Manager, Executive Communications, Public Affairs, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. Walt and many of his animators eventually “went on to create over 1,200 military emblems throughout World War II and beyond. And many of those are still in use.”
Today, Disney continues to support the armed forces in numerous ways, including its Heroes Work Here program and Veterans Institute summit.
A Beginning: Heroes Work Here
Disney’s focus on veteran outreach and hiring began in 2012, as veterans faced a high unemployment rate.
“We saw a great opportunity to see what we could do to help reduce that and find meaningful work for those who have served our nation. So Disney created a program called Heroes Work Here,” Surette said. “We guaranteed that we were going to hire 1,000 veterans over a three-year period. And then we ended up hiring 1,000 in a one-year period.”
Seeing the success of its hiring initiative and the benefits veterans brought to the table, the company chose to extend the program, and has hired more than 11,000 veterans since 2012.
The Veterans Institute Summit Presented by Disney Institute
Building on the success of the Heroes Work Here initiative, Disney Institute hosted its first Veterans Institute summit in 2013. The summit “was a natural extension of the Heroes Work Here program,” said Surette. Disney’s Veterans Institute aims to educate, inspire and empower, sharing “best practices in veteran hiring with other organizations, so they help build veteran hiring initiatives and have their own programs.”
Returning to Walt Disney World in August 2022
This year, the Veterans Institute Summit will take place on August 19th and 20th in person at ESPN Wide World of Sports located at Walt Disney World Resort and online via livestream. Registration details are available on the Disney Institute website.
“We’re really proud to bring it back to Walt Disney World for the first time since we hosted it in 2013,” said Ashley Taylor, Portfolio Director Disney Institute & National Geographic Live, and head of programming for Veterans Institute Summit. “And we’ve expanded it. Now, this is a two-day event focused on both veteran and military spouse hiring and care initiatives within organizations.”
The free event will focus on getting “robust and important content to the people who want to partake of it,” said Taylor. “This event isn’t just for HR or recruiters. This is designed for anyone within an organization because a culture is created in a business with the entirety of its employee base.”
Thanks to the livestream, everyone who wants the content will have access to it. By registering in advance, attendees will also have access to the on-demand replay.
The list of speakers is rich and varied, with speakers coming from a number of different companies and non-profits. The sessions will explore a wide range of perspectives on how veterans and their spouses can navigate the world of civilian employment.
“Hiring and supporting spouses will be an important topic at the summit this year, " said Taylor. “We have an entire panel that will be dedicated to military spouse employment and helping organizations think differently about what they may see as gaps, whether that’s gaps on a resume or frequent job changes.”
The summit will also explore other ways to support military spouses. “For example, maybe there’s not a direct employment opportunity within their own organization. But have they thought about supplier diversity?” said Taylor. “Are they working with military-spouse-owned businesses, since we know that military spouses have a high rate of small business ownership?” A major goal is to help organizations “think a little bit differently about what the opportunities are and how they can be more involved.”
While the Veterans Institute event is intended for those who hire and support veterans, Disney offers many resources and programs for military servicemembers, veterans and spouses. Here are just a few to consider.
● Heroes Work Here - From this landing page, veterans and military spouses can view “videos and have PDFs and PowerPoint presentations and a lot of great resources…as they prepare to pursue opportunities, whether it be with the Walt Disney Company or with other employers of choice,” said Matt Andolina, Senior Recruiter, Walt Disney World Casting Services. Among the available resources are job openings, transition success stories, and information about career fairs, interviewing, personal branding and resume writing.
● Disney Military Fellowship program in Collaboration with the Department of Defense Skillbridge program- Kristy Hall, a Disney Company Executive Search Consultant and U.S. Navy veteran, participated in this program after serving for 22 years. “Through the Department of Defense, I was still a sailor, and I was able to come and experience the corporate world at Walt Disney World for 180 days,” said Hall. She landed a job with the company as a senior recruiter for Disney Cruise Line and eventually moved on to “join the executive recruitment team for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, which is now supporting recruitment for all of our executives.”
● U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes Participant: Disney is a host company in the Corporate Fellowship Program, providing civilian work experiences that support transition from military service to civilian employment.
● Disney Heroes Supply Here: This program, introduced in 2015, promotes the support of veteran-owned businesses, including companies owned by disabled veterans.
● Military Discounts - The Disney’s Armed Forces Salute program offers discounted theme park, resort stay and cruise rates to active and retired service members and their families.