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Helping Veterans Find a New Mission in the Civilian Workforce


Halloween has come and gone, which means Christmas music is already trickling into radio station playlists, grocers are busy setting out ingredients for the upcoming Thanksgiving feast and every retailer is bracing for the Black Friday bloodsport that has become competitive discount shopping. With all that bustle and furor, it’s easy to forget that November also marks the commemoration of Veterans Day. More than the fanfares of marching bands and outpouring of gratitude, military veterans say the best way to embrace their contributions to society is to accept them back into its workforce.

Employers Still Fall Short on Veteran Hiring

The federal holiday is remembered every November 11, a symbolic date to represent the formal cessation of hostilities in World War I, which concluded at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. It evolved into our current incarnation of the military observance in 1954. It’s different than Memorial Day, at which time the nation is asked to pay tribute to the troops who died while serving. Veterans Day, conversely, is meant to honor the men and women of the Armed Services who have fought for us, defended our interests and returned home to resume their lives.

According to a global executive survey by Korn Ferry’s Futurestep division, most employers lack an organized focus on recruiting veterans. The study, which covered over 700 respondents, determined that 80 percent of the organizations polled had no meaningful veteran outreach.

  • About 81 percent had not developed clear messaging on why veterans should join their ranks.
  • Of the organizations, 71 percent provided no training to managers or recruiters on how to hire veterans.
  • More than half of the companies failed to offer onboarding or transition support to veteran hires.

“Transitioning military members bring with them invaluable skills, experiences and traits, such as precise communication, individual accountability, impeccable execution and natural leadership,” said Futurestep President Bill Sebra. “Organizational leaders who make a concentrated effort on recruiting vets will no doubt benefit from new employees who display poise, ingenuity and the ability to handle stressful situations.”

As of 2015, there were 3.6 million veterans who had served during Gulf War era II, the post-911 period of military engagement abroad. Nearly half of these individuals are Millennials, between the ages of 25 and 34 on average. These are skilled, capable, enthusiastic and mission-oriented professionals who would definitely bolster the might of any civilian workforce. And yet, they remain overlooked or face unique challenges that aren’t being addressed.

According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), unemployment for this veteran group hovers around 5.1 percent.

  • For servicemen, unemployment is 4.2 percent.
  • For servicewomen, it’s 5.0 percent.
  • For civilians, the jobless rate holds steady at 4.1 percent.

Yet other obstacles persist, as evidenced by figures from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

  • Nearly 10 percent of male veterans and 8 percent of women veterans are living in poverty.
  • Those veterans who do find careers often end up in the public sector. Currently, 26 percent of government jobs go to returning military personnel. And that’s a huge missed opportunity for private sector employers in desperate need of skilled talent.

The Value of Veteran Talent

Veterans have a wealth of skills, experiences, attitudes and qualifications that make them ideal hires. In today’s increasingly technical marketplace, one plagued by a perceptible lack of qualifications and skills, employers are placing a greater emphasis on recruiting knowledgeable and well-rounded talent with expertise in science, technology, math and engineering. They also look for fit, industry or domain acumen, versatility, adaptability and discipline. And these traits are all hallmarks of the country’s veterans.

The reality, so often overlooked by employers, is that service members possess exactly what companies want: dedication, unparalleled work ethic, specialized skills and a finely tuned ability to remain collected under tremendous pressure and constant change.

  • Servicemembers have extensive experience transitioning into leadership positions and making informed, strategic decisions under fire. In this regard, veterans are well poised and qualified to assume management roles.
  • Servicemembers boast higher-than-average educational backgrounds as a result of academic opportunities facilitated by the military, beyond their core skills training. Based on research conducted by ADP, nine percent of civilians have less than a high school education, compared to only one percent of veterans.
  • Nearly 60 percent of veterans, according to the same ADP study, know what industry their skills transfer into after active duty. “Many members of the military have specialized training in high-tech areas, or have engaged in administrative and HR work under time-sensitive, stressful conditions.”
  • Working as integral members of tightly knit and cohesive units, veterans are often the most naturally organized and collaborative members of teams within an organization. With experience in both subordinate and leadership positions, they understand the importance of every role, bring maturity and adaptability, work cooperatively to accomplish specific objectives, and know how to play well with others.
  • Servicemembers are brought up in a world of discipline and focus. That doesn’t mean they’re merely conditioned to follow rules or adhere to procedures without question -- they’re trained to make best-practices decisions for the benefit of the mission in the absence of orders or operational guidance.
  • As the ultimate service talent, veterans are no strangers to sacrifice and dedication. They know what steps must be taken to achieve critical goals, and they don’t hesitate to execute on the necessary actions.

Recruiting Servicemembers for Civilian Roles

Finding in-house recruiters who understand the needs of veterans seeking civilian jobs, and who know how to capture their interest, can be a difficult undertaking for many companies. Working with staffing curators greatly eases the strain.

Staffing professionals have spent years focusing strategies on veteran hiring initiatives, particularly those firms that specialize in diversity. Not only that, many returning service members worked as military recruiters during their tours of duty. Across many staffing organizations in the industry, you will find these experts in the ranks.

Staffing curators know how to connect with veterans in the right locations, develop relationships with them through focused job fairs, and participate in networking opportunities hosted by military bases.

Staffing professionals without direct military experience themselves have cultivated strong benches of potential talent using their skills at curating social media and online marketplaces. As ADP notes: “New job seeking methods have not passed the military by, either, making it important for a service member oriented recruiting strategy to include social and mobile recruiting. Many recruiters who specialize in the military field have noticed a drastic increase in usage of social media by the active duty military population during the past several years, offering recruiters new avenues for proactive recruiting and relationship-building.”

Veteran Talent Are Perfect for MSP Programs

Veterans often seek out veteran-owned staffing firms, which MSPs regularly add to their strategic mix of suppliers. The use of contingent talent and outsourced staffing is widespread. It’s not going to diminish. With companies of all sizes hiring millions of contingent workers each year, we have an opportunity to put tens of thousands of veterans to work in critical roles. Veterans benefit from the immediacy of obtaining good positions. Clients benefit from the immediacy of finding highly skilled and disciplined professionals.

Veterans also understand the project-based nature of today’s work. In his book The Alliance, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman uses military terms to describe certain aspects of evolving business practices -- specifically, tours of duty: “Like lifetime employ­ment, the tour of duty allows employers and employees to build trust and mutual investment; like free agency, it preserves the flexibility that both employers and em­ployees need to adapt to a rapidly changing world.”

Not only does Reid’s tour of duty concept reflect the changes taking place in traditional employment, it encapsulates a model in which MSPs and veterans inherently thrive.

In the majority of organizations, labor analysts find that hiring managers have a habit of pigeonholing veterans into two different types of roles: operations and IT. That assumption seems similar to discrimination -- saying that only a man can work well in a warehouse environment, for example. In truth, veterans are just as diverse in their cultures, backgrounds, experiences and skills as their civilian counterparts.

MSPs benefit veterans because their suppliers tend to rely on unbiased recruiting methods that focus on skills, attitude and fit. They understand that while veterans have certain soft skills in common, the functional skills they’ve acquired from their military jobs are expansive and integrate seamlessly into civilian positions.

Honor Veteran Service with New Service Opportunities

We regularly cover a variety of diversity topics in our blogs. Veterans should be no exception. As we pay tribute the military men and women who served the nation in the name of honor and duty, let’s also remember how vital our veterans are outside of the military. More than inspiring patriotism, let’s allow their service to inspire our workforce growth and fortitude. Regardless of how an organization plans to attract candidates, making a concerted effort to engage veterans should be an active and serious part of that plan.

A strong military and veteran recruiting campaign propels organizations beyond their competition with some of the nation’s most committed and experienced talent.

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