By Jared Massey | Operations Analyst & HR Consultant | MST HR Solutions
Over the past 20 years, the United States of America has been at the forefront of several global events that have shaped the marketplace and how organizations view their current and prospective employees. Events ranging from terrorist attacks, wars, economic crisis, and advancement of technology, companies are constantly reevaluating their recruiting methods to ensure they are effective, proficient and productive. Coupling global events and the Millennial Generation entering the workforce, organizations found a relatively untapped subcategory of workers entering the job market, the newest generation of veterans.
As our nation ended one conflict and is still currently engaged in another, the newest generation of veterans from an all-volunteer force came home to begin transitioning into a civilian lifestyle, and many large companies started veteran recruitment initiatives to show gratitude for their service to our nation. As businesses began their veteran recruitment campaign, it was soon realized that their patriotic efforts to put veterans to work were uncovering a hidden gem that saved their bottom line and increased their effectiveness and productivity in the workplace. As a military veteran of this generation and now an HR consultant, I have witnessed the issues of recruiting veterans into the civilian workforce.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 there were 21.1 million veterans, about 9 percent of the civilian non-institutionalized population over the age of 18. In the veteran population that served after September 2001, their unemployment rate is at 5.8 percent, which is higher than the total jobless rate for all veterans, at 4.6 percent. (Bureau of Labor Statistics) Additionally, it is currently projected that over the next five years 250,000 service members will be leaving active duty service and entering the workforce. This is compared to the past several years of 200,000 service members leaving active duty. (Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pg. 4) As this segment of the population grows, the need for organizations and veterans to recognize that their shared ambitions meet in the marketplace can significantly benefit one another.
In my research, I identified several challenges encountered in the recruitment and hiring process of veterans in the civilian workforce. One of the most common challenges is relating to the understanding and translation of skills and experience obtain while in military service and how it can correlate to a civilian position. Depending on the level of exposure to the military a hiring manager or recruiter has, there can be a misconception that all service members in the Army or Marine Corps were infantry, and only “shot guns” or anyone in the Air Force were pilots, and only “flew planes”. As these misconceptions grew, veteran organizations created job translation tools that could be used by civilian organizations to translate prior military experience into civilian terms and related career fields.
Although many companies were solely using the translation tools, “in some instances, these tools have the unintended effect of closing the door to employment opportunities for some veterans who, as a consequence of a varied military career combined with other educational experiences, are in fact viable candidates for a given civilian employment opportunity.” (Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse University, pg. 47) As the translation tool applies to specific trades held in the military, the failure in understanding the rank structure, positions held due to their rank, and identifying the intangible skills gained in leadership positions, can place qualified veteran candidates in the unqualified candidate pool.
Other common challenges shared by firms when it comes to recruiting veterans are related to the inflexibility of corporate culture to facilitate a specialized hiring initiative due to new requirements for training, higher turnover rates with newly separated veterans, and the tracking of veterans of in the workforce. As the attrition rate of employees significantly affects organizations, the U.S. Chamber reported that it is common for veterans to switch jobs two times in the first three years separated from service. This is due to the changes in the immediate needs of income, geographical location and after those are met, veterans begin to look for their “right job”. (Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse University, pg. 59)
There are several benefits when it comes to hiring a veteran into a civilian organization. The first benefit is the technical, educational and operational skills gained with serving in the military. Depending on the branch of service, type of enlistment or commission, and job field selected, all military members have to meet a minimum qualification to enter the service. Furthermore, after passing basic training and job training, military members have to maintain personal and professional standards to be competitive in their field. As service members progress through their careers, many attend advanced job-related schools preparing them for leadership roles in their job fields. Additionally, many of the professional standards needed for promotion to the next rank are obtain through leadership schools respective to their branch. These schools share similar curricula and progressively become more in depth with the advancement of rank and prepare them for higher leadership positions. Even though these are military leadership schools, all of them require great knowledge of administration and computer skills. The majority of all course attended in the military are accepted as transfer credits by colleges across the nation and speaks to the level of education received by service members.
The second benefit is the intangible skills and experience gained by serving in the military. The extent of these skills are often overlooked and undetectable by reviewing a resume alone, but the majority of the veterans share similar attributes that drive individuals to serve in the military. According to the Syracuse University, Institute for Veterans and Military Families (2012), their research concluded that:
- Veterans Are Entrepreneurial
- Veterans assume high levels of trust
- Veterans are adept at skills transfer across contexts/tasks
- Veterans have [and leverage] advanced technical training
- Veterans are comfortable/adept in discontinuous environments
- Veterans exhibit high-levels of resiliency
- Veterans exhibit advanced team-building skills
- Veterans exhibit strong organizational commitment
- Veterans have [and leverage] cross-cultural experiences
- Veterans have experience/skill in diverse work-settings
(Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Syracuse University, p. 2-3)
For example, as a Staff Sergeant (E-6, SSgt) in the Marine Corps, ten years of service, trained as an Ammunition Technician, but as an SSgt in the Marine Corps holds billets outside of his career field. That Staff Sergeant recently departed active duty after serving a Chief of Operations and Training for a Marine Detachment, not related to the Ammunition Technician field. In the Marine Corps, Lance Corporal’s (E-3) and above are extensively trained in leadership to prepare them for future positions of leadership. After obtaining the rank of Sergeant (E-5), Marines can hold billets (jobs or position) as Platoon Sergeants, in charge of 30 or more Marines. Duties include accountability, evaluations, physical fitness, training, operational readiness, and all administrative requirements. Moreover, Staff Sergeants are trained to be “plug and play” into any situation, leading all Marines to accomplish any mission.
As outlined in the example, the diversity of leadership training and exposure to different operational environments, they can adapt and be ready to lead in any situation. This will bring added value to an organization and a different perspective to the workplace.
Veteran recruitment for a position in an organization is an unknown quantity to many HR professionals that have limited exposure to the military community. It is human nature to fear the unknown, but with exposure and knowledge, recruiters will be able to effectively assess veteran candidates for possible employment in their organization. As previously explained, veteran organizations have created military career translators to assist better in the evaluation of military skills and correlate them to a position inside a civilian organization. As the example above noted, as the Staff Sergeant trained in the career field of Ammunition, he would not find an area related to Ammunition in a typical entry-level management position and could be passed over by a simple review of his experience.
Military career field translators provide a general reference into the career field of a veteran, but it does not provide an in-depth evaluation into the experience, skills, training, and potential an individual can add to an organization. In my research, I found that many firms are beginning to ask for official biographies, which include more details into the veteran’s military experience not covered in a basic resume. Firm’s need to be proactive in gathering knowledge about the military community and familiarize them with basic information about the structure and operation of the military. Organizations can utilize local veteran groups, online veteran hiring sites, Google, and countless other mediums to prepare for future veteran applicants. Additionally, organizations have sought out currently employed veterans to assist with their veteran hiring process, providing greater details and understanding into a veteran’s experience.
All else fails, just ask questions, legal questions. The power of conducting a phone interview to gather more knowledge about the experience, skills and qualities of a veteran’s military career, will allow recruiters to take notes and conduct research to assist them with the decision of moving forward or not. As a veteran’s resume might be different than a non-veteran, their behavior and answers in a phone or physical interview might be different too.
Veterans are known for not “selling themselves” in an interview and asking the right questions might assist with achieving the details you are looking for. Ask questions specific to each position held that is listed on their resume and ask them to go into a “day-in-the-life” of that position to help you better understand. Since the military trained them to focus on achieving goals as a team, talking openly about individual achievements might be more difficult. Ask questions into goals they wanted to accomplish in the military. Depending on the rank of the veteran, ask questions pertaining to specialty career or leadership courses and ask them to explain in detail the knowledge taught and how that prepared them for future positions. Additionally, follow up with questions into the application of the training they received in tough leadership situations and how that affected the outcome. The questions should achieve several goals: 1. Gather enough information about the candidate to make a decision on hiring. 2. Make the veteran comfortable to expound on their skills and experience. 3. Give the recruiter more exposure and knowledge into the veteran community and help them be more successful in veteran recruitment.
With the yearly growth of our veteran community and the ever-changing global marketplace, veteran hiring campaign’s benefit all parties involved. Ultimately, the greatest benefit is bestowed to our veterans and their families. Here at MST HR Solutions, we are dedicated to the success of all current military members, veterans and their families as they transition into the civilian workforce. Our organization works to support our military veterans and provide them a foundation to begin their new civilian careers that will strengthen them, their families and our communities. The men and women that serve in our Armed Forces are a direct reflection of the unity and diversity of our nation and their great sacrifices have ensured that our freedoms and liberties remain, now many of whom are the leaders who walk among us.
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