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Call of Duty’s virtual soldiers are helping real ones get back to work

The Call of Duty Endowment uses the simulated war of the game to help real veterans when they’re done with their service.

Call of Duty’s virtual soldiers are helping real ones get back to work
[Image: Activision]

Approximately 200,000 veterans transition back to civilian lives each year. In order to survive and thrive, they need good jobs, something the government doesn’t spend a ton of time training people to get. Those who don’t find good work either end up in low-paying gigs or underemployed, working several jobs at once to make ends meet.

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That’s changing because the video-game maker that made pretend war super-popular has worked up its own hack. The makers of Call of Duty even found a way to enlist its virtual soldiers to help.

Since 2009, the Call of Duty Endowment, a nonprofit charitable organization started by Activision Blizzard founder Bobby Kotick, has been seeking out and funding veteran job training and placement organizations that prove to cheaply and efficiently place veterans in quality jobs worth keeping. “The military’s biggest export is veterans,” says Dan Goldenberg, the executive director of the Call of Duty Endowment, who is a former active serviceman and a current captain in the Navy Reserve. “The programs the government sets up are based on an attitude of, ‘Our job is to fight and win the nation’s wars, not to make civilians.'”

To that end, CODE currently works with nine charities in the U.S. and two in the United Kingdom. Over the last nine years, it’s awarded $36 million in grants to enable the placement of more than 54,400 vets in good-paying jobs. In 2018,, the group donated including $5.2 million to help place 10,700 people, at a cost of roughly $522 in services per job attained. According to CODE, that’s roughly one-sixth of what the federal government spends per job placement through its own Department of Labor programs, which Goldenberg calls “death by PowerPoint.”

[Image: Activision]

In a way, CODE uses gamer strategy to maximize its impact. It funds groups with differing skillsets to cover any situation. That includes Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit that excels at transitioning services, and Corporate America Supports You, which is especially adept at working with national guardsmen and reservists. Other groups might have a regional focus or be designed to support veterans with extra needs, like those who’ve racked up some misdemeanors or faced homelessness. The benefits run the gamut from career counseling to resume writing , mock interviews, and in some cases job retraining programs. Some groups also have set up successful hiring pipelines with specific employers. Grant recipients are required to report their progress quarterly: Overall, 93% of all hires end up in full-time jobs with an average starting salary of around $58,200. Six months after being hired, nearly nine out of 10 people remain in those positions.

The organization funds all of this in a variety of ways. First, Activision Blizzard covers operating costs so that 100% of donations go to charity. Second, the group has a relationship with GameStop, which asks customers if they want to donate directly to the cause during every in-store transaction. Sony and Microsoft also enable the sale of in-game merchandise like the “Call of Duty Endowment Salute Pack” for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. That costs $4.99 and features a several ways to customize your character’s look and gestures.

While the unemployment rate for veterans was slightly lower than the national 4% unemployment rate of 2018, Goldenberg maintains that stat doesn’t include everyone who is miserable from working below their ability or at multiple jobs. Nearly one-third of veterans seeking jobs report being underemployed, according to a 2017 study by the Call of Duty Endowment and ZipRecruiter. Veterans actually have a 16% higher chance than regular workers of being underemployed.

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CODE’s goal is to help at least 100,000 veterans find work by 2024. If that initial job disappears, they should be equipped to soldier on.

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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