A Call to Service
With pushes from Washington to increase veteran hiring, now is the perfect time to consider the merits of vets in civilian jobs and the work that needs to be done to ensure they play a vital role in today's workforce.
By Susan R. Meisinger
I was recently asked to moderate a conference panel on the employment of active military members and veterans >, as well as members of the National Guard and reservists. I accepted the opportunity for two reasons.
First, my parents-both members of "the greatest generation"-were also both < veterans >. They met in Iceland on their way to what turned out to be the Battle of the Bulge. Their ability to find employment when they returned from war is what allowed our family to grow and thrive. I'm also old enough to remember the treatment for < veterans > when they returned from Vietnam, which was shameful. I was happy to have the opportunity to discuss a different welcome.
Second, the topic is timely. New regulations from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs implementing the Vietnam Era < Veterans > Readjustment Assistance Act that went into effect last year require federal contractors to adopt a hiring "benchmark" or goal for the employment of < veterans >. The goal, which must be included in affirmative-action plans, can be set with the employer's own calculations using specific federal data, or based on the national percentage of < veterans > in the civilian labor force determined by the OFCCP, currently set at 8 percent. Many federal contractors are including this hiring goal for the first time in affirmative-action plans this year.
In addition to this new goal-setting process, there is a real push to encourage all employers to hire < veterans > who are now returning from posts overseas as the troop drawdown continues. Not only has First Lady Michelle Obama selected this issue as one of her priorities, but business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have launched initiatives to encourage < veterans >' employment, creating, for example, the "Hiring Our Heroes" campaign.
The panel discussed what I categorize as the "Five Ss" of the issue:
Panelists highlighted that this candidate pool is rich with people who have been trained to be leaders, and who've had experience working in diverse team environments. They have experience in rapid training to be proficient in a wide assortment of skills, and since they've served in an all-volunteer military, they understand the concept of service to others
One of the most common stereotypes is that large numbers of < veterans > suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Panelists pointed out that this is unfortunate since, although it's true that some < veterans > suffer from PSTD, roughly 7 percent to 8 percent of the general population also suffers from PSTD. Trauma is an equal-opportunity event in people's lives. Panelists also described experiences in which employers or co-workers assumed that < veterans > would be rigid, formal, hierarchical, autocratic and not very creative. While certainly some < veterans > might have these characteristics, so too might lots of civilian employees.
A common challenge for < veterans > entering the civilian workplace: translating what they've done in the military into civilian terminology. Panelists acknowledged that < veterans > need help translating their skills for a civilian workplace, but-happily-"translation" websites are available to help both HR professionals and < veterans > bridge this communication divide. It's simply a matter of using the tools available to help eliminate the barrier.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act sets out the legal obligations employers have to protect the jobs of members of the National Guard or reservists who are called up, but the transition from the military to civilian status involves more than changing jobs -- it's a change in career, responsibilities, home and health care, to name a few. To help with the transition, Congress mandated in 2011 40 hours of instructor-led training to help active, reserve and Guard < veterans > with their transitions, from financial planning to translating their military skills into a civilian resume. Panelists highlighted that employers can help by simply recognizing the scope of change in the veteran's life, pointing out how some employers assign another veteran to serve as a mentor to newly transitioned < veterans >. Sometimes, a veteran just needs someone safe to ask questions he or she may have about life as a civilian employee.
Moreover, members of the active military have families, and I was struck by the statistics on military spouses. They are predominantly female (95 percent), more diverse than the broader civilian population, have higher unemployment rates and earned 38 percent less than their civilian counterparts. Ninety percent report having more formal education/experience than needed at their current or most recent position, so they're also underemployed.
While frequently moving with their active military partners is no doubt partially responsible for the high levels of unemployment and underemployment, employers shouldn't discount this applicant pool. Consider the valuable experiences these military spouses bring to the workplace: flexibility, adaptability and openness to change. And, as one military officer/panelist commented on the frequency of job changes, "the civilian workforce is catching up to us-civilians are changing jobs as often as we [are]."
This isn't complicated. Success is a qualified hire who's in a successful work experience and adds value to the business.
While it may take a little extra work to target < veterans and their spouses in recruiting efforts, it's the least we can do for those who've served our country. Besides, wouldn't you do a little extra if there was a good chance you'd get a great new employee?
Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.