Why organizations need to consider veteran hiring programs.
The unemployment rate has been plaguing the United States workforce since 2008. One of the hardest hit sectors of the population is veterans. The numbers don’t paint the prettiest picture. Veterans account for approximately 9.5 percent of the adult U.S. population. The unemployment rate has been hovering around 8 percent, yet for veterans it tops out at 11 percent. It’s time to change the math.
The Obama administration has been aggressive in its support of getting veterans back in the workforce. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act seeks to cut veteran unemployment by offering education, training, and transitioning skills for veterans, along with tax credits for employers. As part of the American Jobs Act signed by President Obama in November 2011, the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Tax Credits offer tax incentives to businesses that hire unemployed or disabled veterans. Through Joining Forces, Obama is challenging the private sector to hire and train 100,000 unemployed servicemembers or their spouses. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched Hiring Our Heroes, a nationwide program to help veterans and military spouses find employment.
Corporations are also joining in the fight. GE plans to hire 5,000 veterans over the next five years and sponsor 400 veterans’ job fairs this year. JPMorgan Chase, along with other partners, launched the 100,000 Jobs Mission last March, with the goal of hiring 100,000 transitioning servicemembers by 2020.
So it’s evident: Interest among both the private and public sectors in hiring veterans is robust. Now, the rubber needs to meet the road. HR serves as the critical bridge between unemployed veterans and the companies that want to hire them. But there is no guidebook—yet. The following pages offer insight on the how since we already know the why.
The HRO Today Forum’s Hiring Heroes: Integrating Veterans Back into the Workforce will offer a roundtable discussion to help HR officers gain an understanding of veteran-hiring issues and how they can implement strategies. The session—to be held at the sixth annual HRO Today Forum and Workforce Congress on May 2 in Washington, D.C. (www.hrotodayforum.com)—will feature author Emily King. Her book, Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing, and Retaining Veterans, is highlighted below. Also at the forum, David Coe—a roundtable participant, veteran, and director of a military talent program at Orion International—will provide case studies of how veteran hiring programs work. His thoughts follow.
— Debbie Bolla
Corporate America’s Civic Duty
By David Coe
During the past two decades, a variety of factors have combined to spotlight just how valuable the U.S. military veteran population is as a source of talent for corporate America. A noteworthy percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs are veterans, the military offers a highly qualified pool of diversity candidates, and more than 180,000 veterans leave active duty military service each calendar year. Perhaps most important, the performance, development, and bottom-line impact that veterans have had across multiple industries have been most impressive.
Since 2010, the federal government has increased its focus on veteran employment, due to an interest in reducing unemployment costs and aiding those who have served our nation at war. This includes the passage of the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, new tax credits for hiring veterans, and the creation of the White House’s Joining Forces initiative. Orion International, which has helped 30,000 veterans find new careers, is a partner for this campaign and has pledged to provide consultative veteran hiring services and a variety of best practices for a successful military talent strategy that has been established during the past two decades. But veteran hiring stems from humble beginnings.
In the early 90’s, veteran hiring depended largely on identifying veteran executives within various organizations who were seeking military talent. Fast forward five years, and it all began to change. Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric Co., endorsed one of the first leadership development programs focused on junior military officers (JMOs) known collectively as the GE Junior Officer Leadership Program (JOLP).
Rather than selecting candidates from a short list of pedigree MBA programs or undergraduate university students, the JOLP focused on identifying top-tier JMOs with high quality education, proven real-world leadership and team building, and solid communication skills. The basic goal of the program was to take military officers (who had already proven their ability to lead and develop teams in some of the most difficult—and often life or death situations), and teach them the basic framework of GE’s business. This was done through a two-year rotational model that highlighted key pillars of the business. After training was complete, the candidates were tasked to do exactly what they had already proven they could do—lead others.
The JOLP was a success and a springboard for a planned enterprise-scale military talent initiative that has been duplicated in other organizations, including Pfizer, Georgia-Pacific, Applied Materials, PepsiCo, and Johnson & Johnson.
The Value of a Vet
The U.S. military represents perhaps the country’s richest source for new leadership and technical talent. Veterans share a special skill set—an accelerated learning curve, the ability to ‘do more with less,’ and a proven track record of sound decision making under the most difficult of situations. Veterans are highly trained and educated, willing to travel, have realistic salary expectations, and are eager to begin a career in nearly any field.
Siemens has enlisted an enterprise-scale military talent program since 2010. According to Mike Brown, Siemens’ senior director of talent acquisition, “We have found that veterans transition seamlessly into many different types of roles throughout our organization, and they continue to impress us with their dedication, work ethic, and leadership skills. These military hires are technically proficient, experts in their fields, and consummate professionals.”
Of the hundreds of veterans hired by Siemens into roles including project management, engineering, sales, production leadership and wide range of skilled technician jobs, there are a number of common threads proving that a military talent pipeline works:
• Veterans are trained to troubleshoot, fix, and maintain complex
pieces of equipment and technology, following guidelines prescribed in technical orders and manuals, but must do so frequently in significantly difficult situations where no outside support is available, such as in combat or while underway at sea.
• Veterans are accustomed to receiving a very general set of directions or simple end-state project goal, and then are required to work autonomously, in remote locations, for up to several days at a time.
• Veterans are commonly cross-trained in multiple disciplines
regardless of their specific subject matter expertise, and become very comfortable adapting to ever-changing situations where new ideas, approaches, and strategies must be quickly decided upon in order to succeed.
Junior military officers are often graduates of our nation’s service academies and other top-tier schools, have typically served in the U.S. military for between four and 10 years, and have served in roles with progressive leadership responsibility. Military officers are very likely to have served at least one combat tour during their time in service, and many have served multiple overseas tours. While deployed, they are required to make severe tactical leadership decisions under difficult circumstances. This provides an ideal foundation for a career in management, engineering, or sales.
Enlisted servicemembers often have served in the military as skilled technicians with a combination of small unit leadership as well as a focus on electronics, electrical, and/or mechanical skills that easily transition into positions that include a range of both skilled trade and leadership.
Mark Goldstone is an Air Force veteran and now a project manager for Acciona Windpower where he manages wind farm construction. He feels that his keys to success as a leader in the private sector are directly attributable to his time in the Air Force. “Military personnel are very disciplined and able to follow instruction with little to no supervision. Building and maintaining wind turbines requires working at heights, in confined spaces, and in close proximity to high voltage. These hazards are certainly mitigated by industry practices to manage these dangers, but it does take a certain personality to embrace this career.”
Developing a Military Hiring Initiative
Although veterans are an excellent addition to nearly any organization’s talent acquisition strategy, there are challenges inherent in hiring them. It can be difficult to reach the military community. Organizations are not granted access to military installations without proper credentials and clearance, making traditional recruiting efforts more complicated. Many servicemembers are deployed in the months leading up to their separation date, and therefore unable to complete a traditional career search.
Typically, due to these constraints, transitioning servicemembers rely on referrals, personal networks, and alumni associations and organizations. Add in the fact that many have never before conducted a job search and they are most likely to seek the counsel of friends and colleagues who have previously made a successful transition.
From the employer’s perspective, it can be challenging for a hiring manager who lacks military knowledge to translate a resume or to have a full understanding of which veteran profiles are most beneficial for their specific industry. This can lead to eliminating successful candidates from consideration.
Honeywell, an industry leader in aerospace, consumer products and engineering services, had used SourceRight Solutions, a global recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) provider, for several years for full cycle talent management. However, the company recognized a need for a dedicated stream of military talent based on hiring manager desire and business need.
“Hiring those candidates with a military background has many benefits including discipline, work ethic, technical ability and leadership,” notes Gary Drew, Honeywell operations manager.
Honeywell looked to Orion to create a customized program that works in concert with its existing RPO program. The model implemented for Honeywell’s military talent strategy includes veteran recruiting, training programs, and a global brand management and marketing campaign. Honeywell hired several hundred vets in 2011, and sees a 90 percent retention rate after two years with military hires.
Veterans, the country, need other employers to follow suit.
What Vets Bring to the Job
By Emily King
Why hire a veteran? Because it’s good business. Set aside all of the other considerations like altruism and patriotism, and look at what they bring in terms of competence and productivity. There are some key characteristics unique to veterans. Even a young person with only a few years of service will bring ingrained qualities and values. So, while this person may not bring a lot of professional experience or marketable skills, he or she can easily learn new skills to do a job. Contrast this with a young person with neither the job skills nor the work ethic, and the distinction becomes clear in terms of adding immediate value to your organization.
Research finds these to be the most notable military characteristics:
Loyalty. Joining the U.S. military requires swearing an extremely serious oath of loyalty. Loyalty is the expectation, not the exception. Any civilian new-hire has the potential to be a lifelong employee if he or she has a reason to stay.
Values. With a military servicemember, you can count on seeing consistent evidence of integrity, teamwork, ability to operate under pressure, cooperation, personal responsibility, and a can-do spirit.
Discipline. The military views discipline as an operating principle, a way of being, and the ‘‘right’’ way to get things done. Discipline is a character strength in the military, which in the civilian world translates to employees you can count on to see a task through to completion and to do so under extremely stressful conditions.
Ownership/Accountability. Ownership and accountability are characteristic of the military way of operating. For veterans, finger pointing and avoiding blame are a coward’s way out, and the ‘‘right’’ manner of dealing with errors is to own up to them. Often it is the veteran in an organizational team or division who sets the example for others to act with greater integrity, as well.
Leadership. Any length of military service will include training and experience in leadership. Leadership begins in boot camp and continues throughout the career of a servicemember. The one thing that makes the military run effectively is a constant pipeline of leaders at every level. Nobody invests in leadership training like the U.S. military.
Strategy. The size of the military and the scope of its mission mean that personnel, especially those with responsibility for squads or units, are exposed to large-scale operations. Since so much in the military consists of large-scale operations, veterans can often conceive of strategy and change at a larger scale than the average civilian who hasn’t led a complex operation with lots of moving parts.
Diverse experience. Military servicemembers typically change jobs and/or locations every three years, so a military resume and skill set may reflect many unrelated roles that aren’t connected on what looks like a coherent career path. Most veterans will bring a variety of skills and experience that enhance their value to your organization, not to mention the flexibility to move and change roles as needed. Additionally, veterans are accustomed to working with a diversity of people. The U.S. military is demographically diverse, with representation from every ethnic and socioeconomic group and a strong track record of women and minorities in leadership.
Bringing order to chaos. Again, military servicemembers often have experience working with lots of moving parts that need to be organized. This includes structuring processes and coordinating large groups of people, which allows them to envision order where someone else might be overwhelmed by all that has to be done.
Important credentials. The military heavily invests time and money toward training servicemembers. Consequently, many have received extensive—and expensive—technical training and certifications. This represents a tremendous cost savings to civilian organizations that hire veterans. Likewise, many recent servicemembers have pre-existing security clearances, which are of great value to government employers, defense agencies, and civilian organizations.
A sensitivity to cultural differences can be helpful in all of this. Veterans bring tremendous functional skills and a rock solid work ethic to the civilian workforce. However, to make the most of this valuable talent, organizations may need to rethink how they onboard new hires. Former servicemembers need organizational context, in addition to information specific to mission and roles. Veterans are coming from a very strong culture, in which most processes and procedures are codified and explicit. This may not be the case in your organization, so you want to practice making the implicit explicit, explaining things that may seem obvious to you as a long-time civilian, or to new hires coming from nonmilitary organizations. This has nothing to do with innate capability; it is all about the transition. While every organization’s culture and operations are different, those differences are small compared to the quantum difference between military culture and civilian culture.
Your onboarding approach for veterans doesn’t have to be elaborate. The most important thing is that you give it some thought and advanced preparation. Here are eight great tips for onboarding veterans; see how many apply more broadly to all new-hires, and consider making a few of them standard operating procedure:
1. Assign a learning buddy. Before the employee’s first day on the job, assign someone to show him or her the ropes for the first few weeks. Remember, a lot of what you assume servicemembers will know from previous experience won’t apply, so position them for success early by anticipating needs.
2. Assign a mentor. The military are a helpful bunch, especially when it comes to helping their own; your current employees who previously served will likely jump at the chance to mentor a ‘‘newbie.’’ Military organizations typically assign a mentor to junior personnel, so this is a comfortable role for veterans to take on. Ensure the roles of mentor and mentee are clear, with accountabilities in place to guarantee purposeful interaction and outcomes.
3. Engage the family. Because military service is a 24/7 operation
in which many live on the base where they work, the boundaries between work life and personal life overlap. The result is a strong sense of community that includes the whole family. Involving a veteran’s spouse can make a real difference when engaging new hires early. If you are taking a new hire to lunch on his first day, consider inviting his partner to join as well, and if orientation activities or materials can include the partner, it will go a long way toward early engagement of the employee.
4. Set expectations. The onboarding process is a key opportunity to clarify expectations and organizational norms, and to prepare the servicemember for early success. Veterans come to you from a different world, culturally speaking, so make the implicit explicit. Explain the basic rules for when they should arrive for work, leave, take lunch breaks, the dress code, the office dos and don’ts, etc.
5. Give a warm welcome. All too often, a new employee shows up on his or her first day only to be met with a blank stare as if no one knew they had been hired. The few minutes it takes to scurry around and find out who this new person is and where she’s supposed to go can make a lasting negative first impression, especially for a servicemember who may already feel like a bit of an outsider on day one. Start things off on the right foot by anticipating the veteran’s first day of employment and being prepared to receive him or her.
6. Check in periodically. Chances are the nuts and bolts of
accomplishing work at your organization are different from how work is accomplished in the military, so it is crucial to check in with the new employee periodically to gauge how things are going, answer questions, address concerns, check assumptions, and calibrate expectations. These touchpoints will help establish a strong personal connection and build engagement.
7. Use the manager’s mid-year check-in. A mid-year check-in is a
quick and easy assessment tool for managers to gauge a new hire’s performance and fit before the first formal review. This opens the door to conversation about how the employee’s transition is progressing and what, if any, challenges or opportunities exist for which he or she may need guidance.
8. Connect them to a community. Sponsor a forum such as an
affiliation or networking group for employees who served in the military. This provides veterans with the sense of community they may miss, encourage networking and collaboration, and, build a bond to your organization.
Emily King is author of the book, Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing, and Retaining Veterans from which the preceding is excerpted.
RPO Steps Up
Several RPO providers offer Veteran Hiring Initiatives:
• Accolo and VetJobs (www.accolo.com/jobs)
All clients’ jobs are listed on VetJobs and Accolo provide veterans an opportunity to work from home as an Accolo Certified Hiring Consultant.
• Adecco Career Connections for Military Spouses and Veterans
Career Connections is a partnership between Adecco and military installations around the country to recruit and hire military spouses and veterans. Hiring initiatives include recruiting from military job fairs, through military job boards, and from military bases in the U.S.
• Aon Corporation and the Wounded Warrior Project
Aon has hosted programs in Chicago and New York for disabled veterans who are unemployed or underemployed and looking for careers in business. At these events, veterans received training on how to write an effective resume and conduct a successful job search.
• CareerCurve Veteran Career Transition Program
The program delivers career coaching from veterans, a SWAT team for change-in-life trauma after leaving the military, candidate marketing plans and transferable skills via a hybrid military translator tool.
• Kelly Services
Kelly has specific efforts to attract and recruit transitioning military, veterans and their spouses.
• PeopleScout and Hiring Our Heros
PeopleScout is the exclusive recruiting and technology partner of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It provides candidate/employer registration and candidate tracking/support on a pro bono basis as part of its commitment to helping veterans and spouses find suitable employment opportunities.
• Volt Military Heroes Program
Because the transition from military service to a private sector career can be a culture shift, Volt offers veteran outreach programs and job preparation training to help veterans, military spouses, and wounded warriors find jobs where they can thrive.
• Yoh and Recruit Military
Yoh posts all job openings to Recruit Military’s job board, which caters to those who have served active duty in the U.S. Military, in the National Guard or Reserves.