What Entrepreneurs Can Do to Help Veterans Make the Transition From Military to Civilian Jobs
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Each year more than 200,000 service members leave the military. The good news is that veteran unemployment has been trending downward since 2010 and, as of October 2018, sets at 2.9 percent.
The bad news is that transitioning from military to civilian life is just as tough as it’s always been, especially in the workplace. The structure, roles and teamwork veterans have lived and breathed during their military service don’t always translate in the civilian world. Veterans can be left feeling isolated and unable to fulfill their potential.
We can all do more to ease that transition and tap into the tremendous skills, commitment and values they bring to the table. Every business should create a supportive system for veterans transitioning from the military. Here’s how to start.
Break the stigma.
Too often civilians and employers assume everybody who was in the service is a combat veteran struggling with PTSD from the horrible things they witnessed at war. That’s just not the case.
What is true is that the U.S. military is the most structured, organized "company" in the world. Veterans leave the service having received ongoing training their entire military career. They enter the workforce with a work ethic and a commitment to their mission and purpose that you can’t find in a civilian employee.
Yet this enduring stigma, the idea that a veteran is a risky hire, makes them some of the most underrated potential employees in the marketplace. Don’t buy into the stereotype. Give veterans every opportunity you’d give to any other job candidate or employee, and it’ll pay off for your business. Not only are they the hardest workers, but they tend to stick around longer than the average employee because of their dedication and commitment.
Put vets in HR
It can be hard to relate to a job in the military.
Too often veterans go unhired for long stretches of time simply because of disconnects between HR and veterans. A veteran’s resume might make no sense to a civilian unfamiliar with the jobs and roles in the military. A recruiter looking for a warehouse inventory control manager, for example, might not realize that a former supply sergeant has all the relevant skills and experience.
Part of the responsibility for translating skills falls on the veteran, and there are new tools to help them do so. But HR can do more to proactively recognize talent.
Try putting a veteran in HR means to better spot under-the-radar candidates whose military experience is a great fit, even if it doesn’t initially look that way on paper.
Honor their service.
Veterans like to hang out with veterans -- they show a completely different side of their personality when they’re among comrades than when they’re among civilians. In a mostly civilian workplace, most veterans will stay mum about their service. You might be a cubicle away from a Navy SEAL who saved dozens of lives and you’d never know it.
Make sure you and your leadership are aware of veteran hires, and recognize their service in staff meetings, for example. Embrace their service as an organization and take an interest in what they did in the military. That can start to break down the barriers between veterans and civilians and make everyone feel welcome and valued.
Follow good examples.
The NFL’s Salute to Service program aims to “Honor, Empower and Connect with our nation's service members, veterans and their families.” From November 1 through 19, the NFL will donate $5, up to $5 million, for every use of #SaluteToService. On Veterans Day, the amount donated rises to $25 per hashtag. The proceeds provide veterans with professional development opportunities, academic scholarships and more.
T-Mobile not only offers active military, veterans, and their families the biggest discounts on mobile phone plans, but also has committed to hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years -- double the pledge it made in 2016. T-Mobile is also helping FourBlock, a nonprofit that helps veterans transition into the workforce, launch an online version of its Career Readiness Program.
There are many other examples, from USAA to Geico, of large companies going out of their way to support veterans. But why not more small businesses? How could you, perhaps on a smaller scale, commit to hiring veterans or drive an awareness campaign around veterans’ service?
Don’t just check a box.
When I go to veteran job fairs, there’s always an interesting mix. You have major companies with hundreds of people in line. Their recruiters are having conversations and scheduling interviews, and some veterans even leave with job offers. And then there are other tables, many of them smaller companies, that seem like they’re just there because it looks good. The reps aren’t engaged and don’t seem to have any plans to make an offer to a qualified candidate.
It’s a good first step to participate in a job fair, but to truly make a difference and support transitioning veterans, you have to follow through, not just check a box.
Everyone must play a role.
In the end, everyone has a hand in a smoother transition for veterans into civilian life.
HR managers have to do a better job of assessing the qualifications and strengths veterans present. CEOs need to better invest in the process, and recognize veterans on their staff. Veterans getting out of the service need to draft resumes that more clearly highlight their skills and experience for a civilian audience. Civilians should be Googling veteran businesses and businesses that proudly support veterans and veteran causes.
When we all work together, we can honor veterans’ skills, dedication, values, and service not just on Veteran’s Day, but every day, and help them establish a new role in civilian life.