As more companies expand their workforce to meet critical skill gaps in high-demand jobs, there is a renewed opportunity to increase veteran hiring. To tap into this highly skilled talent pool, companies need a targeted outreach strategy to attract qualified veterans who possess valuable leadership and teamwork skills. Additionally, many veterans transitioning from the military to civilian careers have advanced training in logistics, are current in the newest technologies and may qualify for security clearances that many federal contractors value in their job candidates. Targeted recruitment, however, requires more initiative than expressing goodwill or describing that your company is “veteran friendly”. Veterans have distinct views on whether this declaration is genuine. As such, it is critically important for companies and hiring managers to demonstrate their understanding of the challenges and complexities that the transition from military service to the civilian workforce entails. Transition includes challenges and opportunities for both employers and veterans.
Understanding the Cultural Shift
It is important to know that many veterans are still learning how to “de-program” from a military environment of strict rules and procedures to a civilian world where expectations are less clearly defined and sometimes inconsistent. Veterans are not “plug and play” workers and therefore interviewers and hiring managers need to engage in more in-depth discussions to explore how candidates’ military occupations and experiences apply for the positions they seek to fill. Furthermore, due to the different pace and expectations of civilian employment, it is also important to prepare veterans for the cultural differences, such as communication styles with managers and co-workers or the expediency in which jobs must be completed. Veterans who participated in focus group sessions conducted by Cornell University with the support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation indicated that their mission-focused thinking and the urgency by which they needed to “get a job done” often conflicts with the expectations and pace of their civilian workplace.
Factors that Can Impact Recruitment and Hiring
Recruiting veterans is often challenging due to the multitude of sources and systems that serve transitioning veterans. Additionally, most veterans have difficulties marketing their skills and selling their personal brand to employers. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and the inconsistency of company hiring protocols can also place them at a disadvantage as these processes are much different from the uniformed hiring of the federal government. Many veterans believe that they are ill-equipped for a civilian job search, noting they did not have experience researching and applying for jobs, and that release points from the military (e.g., TAP and GPS) were ineffective. Veterans expressed a need for having more private sector employer participation in transition classes and also recommended to incorporate in the curriculum strategies for adjusting to the civilian workplace culture and guidance on how to thrive and advance in that environment. Lastly, they also suggested preparing an exit strategy for leaving the military at least six months to a year before transition.
Some companies may not view military service as a professional asset. Others find it difficult to address a potential “hard skills” gap or shortage, specifically with regard to information technology and computer proficiency. A common belief of some managers is that unless a veteran has an occupational specialty in the trades (e.g., mechanic, carpenter, etc.), they are at a significant disadvantage in transitioning to the workforce. Even with skill translators, managers and recruiters often have difficulty understanding what veterans did in the military and how those skills and experiences match available job requisitions. Employers should be aware that many seemingly unrelated military skills could in fact easily translate to a business environment. Furthermore, while some skill sets might not be a direct match for a job, technical aptitudes will enable these veterans to develop the required skills quickly. Also, their exceptional soft skills, such as adaptability, reliability, and discipline, often prove to be invaluable.
The workforce development system and the Work Innovations and Opportunity Act (WIOA) can provide funding through apprenticeship programs – both Registered Apprenticeships and Joint Apprenticeships (employers and unions) – as an employment and training solution for upskilling veteran jobseekers. Veterans are given priority in utilizing workforce development services and are eligible to use their post-9/11 GI Bill while in apprenticeship training. An excellent apprenticeship model is Fives Machining Systems, a global machine-tool company focused on metal cutting, machine tools and composite systems. Fives has had enormous success in finding capable veteran talent through partnership with workforce development, Gateway Community and Technical College, and community agencies to meet growing skills gaps. William Weier, Human Resources Director at Fives, knows first-hand of the critical shortage of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) candidates and realized that “you cannot find them and you cannot steal them, because they are not there; so you have to grow them.” Fives has found that hiring military veterans through their apprenticeship program is an excellent way of transferring knowledge from their seasoned workforce to new employees who can aptly serve current and future customers. Recognized for these initiatives, the company was part of the White House Upskills Summit to share information about how they train workers to earn while they learn and prepare them for advancing to higher paying jobs.
Every state has either a federal Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship (OA) or a State Apprenticeship Agency (SAA). Another strategy for capitalizing on this potential talent is working with the Veteran Career Service offices at junior colleges and universities. Companies can also tap into the Student Veterans of America that supports a network of over 1,300 schools and over 500,000 student veterans.
Additional Best Practices in Recruiting
- Holding industry/business-led transition boot-camp/re-careering workshops
- Recruiting on base/military installations for soon-to-be transitioning service members
- Creating and expanding opportunities for work-based experiences, such as paid internships, apprenticeships and on-the-job training
- Working with veteran outreach organizations that have liaisons to connect companies with qualified veterans
- Developing and delivering cultural competency training for hiring managers and recruiters
- Encouraging sub-contractors and vendors to hire veterans
Engagement and Retention
- Providing onboarding and mentoring programs, both veteran-to-veteran and civilian-to-veteran, to support the transition and integration of new hires and to increase the likelihood of job retention and career development.
- Instilling a “retention starts the first day of hire” mindset, which is critical for employee engagement and a vital piece of the retention puzzle. Employers who provide up-front support during the hiring process usually achieve better adjustment and employment outcomes.
- Conducting employer appreciation events of military service with executive breakfasts, photos with and recognition by the CEO, and disseminating challenge coins to those who have served, can increase retention and self-identification of military status.
- Celebrating Veterans Day by encouraging veterans to come dressed for work in uniform to increase awareness and discussion about military service.
- Encouraging veterans to join their designated Employee Resource Groups (ERG) or establish veteran-focused ERGs, if there are none, to allow employees to network and support mutual goals.
An overlooked fact is that service is the core principle for veterans who have served their country in the Armed Forces. Veterans spend the majority of their military careers assisting and supporting others through missions. Think about how your company can gain additional talent and provide a veteran with a new mission to serve by working for your company.
Below are additional resources that can help employers successfully hire and retain veterans.
The Veteran Employment Leading Practices: Tools for Engaging Talent contains resources for executives, HR professionals, veterans, and co-workers to promote the business case for hiring veterans.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes Roadmap for Employers provides articles and tools on best practices.
The Northeast ADA Center’s Veteran Toolkit provides inclusion strategies and practices for veterans with disabilities in employment.