The United States has 21.2 million men and women veterans as of 2012. Vets who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both, had an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent, according to the Current Population Survey (CPC), co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.
While there are significant tax breaks for employers through the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 and other legislation, many vets face considerable obstacles re-entering civilian life and obtaining employment. Challenges include:
- visible war-related disabilities
- invisible wounds such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- difficulty integrating back into family/community life
- communicating their feelings and experiences with others who may not be able to relate to their military service
- translating the valuable skills acquired during military service into ones desired by employers.
Translating military skills into civilian life
Military professionals are trained to work well in teams and lead others—important skills in every type of enterprise, but the terminology and skills sets do not always directly correlate. Both companies and the retuning vets need to create a “bridge” from military to civilian life.
From the veteran side, there are many resources to help them think through how the skills they have gained will translate into a corporate structure. According to Jeff Klare, CEO of the Be a Hero, Hire a Hero organization, “Not too many companies are looking for a machine gunner.” However, he emphasizes that vets can bring exceptional value to companies. Among other services and support, his organization helps vets develop an “elevator speech” in which they convert their military experience, such as being responsible for a $3 million piece of equipment, into being an effective steward of corporate resources.
Al Malinchak, CEO of Éclat Transitions LLC, has developed an eTransition Guide to help vets convert their resumes so they are business-friendly, along with providing guidance and counseling services.
For example, Malinchak suggests vets should try shifting the focus from the “performance of the mission” to bottom-line contribution.
From the point of view of companies, Klare suggests that organizations must learn how to translate military acronyms into civilian skill sets. Having a defined job description will be very helpful to a returning veteran, as “they are used to working with SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures),” says Betsy Blee, a former lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps who went on to have a very successful 26 year career at Pfizer, the leading pharmaceutical company.
Lisa Rosser, CEO and founder, The Value of a Veteran, notes that veterans can be very rules- and process-oriented and will benefit from a structured onboarding process that helps them identify how things get done. She also emphasizes that vets are very community-oriented, with a compelling desire to serve—traits that can be applied in many organizational contexts.
Rosser recommends that companies become educated about the military. For example, companies may need to make allowances when vets will need to take time off from work to use their Veterans Administration medical benefits, as such appointment schedules are not flexible. She cites several leading companies as being exemplary in being vet-friendly, including GE, Northrup Grumman, and Verizon.
Establishing a buddy system
It is extremely helpful to returning vets to have someone with a military background inside organizations serve as a buddy for the first several months, helping to show them the ropes and how things get done. In contrast to a military environment, where relationships and roles are very clearly defined, today’s flattened and matrixed organizations features many interpersonal complexities and unwritten rules for success that may shift from project to project, and a buddy can help explain how to navigate effectively.
Invite recently hired vets into your companies’ Veterans’ Employee Resource Group (ERG), or establish one if needed. This will foster a community and sense of belonging. The benefits to the organization will be amply rewarded in terms of accelerating productivity and enhancing future recruiting of veterans.
Other solutions include providing mentors to returning vets to help them leverage their skill sets successfully.
The CPC data reports that nearly 3 in 10 Gulf War II era veterans have a service-connected disability, equating to some 712,000 individuals. Klare suggests that accommodations, when needed within the workplace, need not be onerous. He cites as an example allowing a vet to bring a service dog to work, or situating a workstation so that a vet with PTSD has full visibility to the surrounding area, or if that is not possible, simply providing a rear view mirror.
Our veterans have served our country and deserve to be welcomed back into our communities and workplaces. Blee reminds us: when an organization hires a veteran, they obtain an employee who “has been taught to make decisions, how to be a leader and someone who is a patriot.” That sounds like a good bargain for all to invest in the extra effort to hire our veterans.
What best practices have you seen for integrating vets in your organization?
To read more D&I blog posts, go to http://www.astd.org/Communities-of-Practice/Human-Capital/Best-Practices-in-Diversity-and-Inclusion.