24 Hours on the 'USS Stennis': Why I Committed to Hiring Veterans

Entrusting your company to talented veterans can put you on the path to victory.

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By Michael Gleason

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The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

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Last year, the U.S. Navy gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. I was invited, along with a small group of CEOs, to live on the USS Stennis for 24 hours.

Related: 100 Veteran Friendly Franchises

The visit was part of a distinguished visitor program. We were flown from San Diego to an undisclosed location in the Pacific Ocean, where we landed on the carrier and "caught the trap."

When we touched down, I knew it was going to be an adventure, but I hardly expected my night's stay to reshape my business strategy. Aboard the Stennis, I saw firsthand the strength and comradeship sailors use to defend our country. I also realized the incredible potential they could offer America's entrepreneurs after completing their service.

That evening, on the flight deck, I spoke at length with Vice Adm. David Buss. As we watched pilots land and take off, I asked what I could do to better support the U.S. military. His answer was simple: "Hire more veterans."

Why hire a hero?

Veterans, I've learned, bring a fierce skill set to the workplace. With military training and related experiences under their belts, they understand integrity, commitment and collaboration better than any other group I know. They're accustomed to following a chain of command, so they understand how to navigate office politics, and they're exceptionally hard workers.

Yet, for some reason, entrepreneurs have been slow to hire ex-military personnel. Since 2001, the veteran unemployment rate has lingered at around 5.8 percent, noticeably higher than the 5 percent national average. When veterans do find employment, few feel their roles are good fits, according to studies. About half of veterans leave their first post-military jobs within a year of transitioning home, and 65 percent within two years.

The signs are, however, that more business leaders are joining forces with veterans. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, veteran unemployment is at its lowest level in more than eight years and programs are emerging across the country to promote servicemen and women.

Those programs have found what I have found: Hiring a veteran is a win-win. Not only can you contribute to this incredible community, but your business may well thrive in the passionate, dedicated hands of our nation's heroes. When I returned from the Stennis, I heeded the vice admiral's words. I recruited a cohort of former military members, and I'm proud to report they're some of the strongest hires I've ever made.

4 steps to bet on a vet

If you're ready to recruit, hire and retain some of America's military heroes, then I've got orders for you:

1. Show your stripes. To benefit from what the veteran community can offer, make your intentions clear. According to Military.com's Veteran Talent Index, almost 90 percent of veterans are more likely to consider openly veteran-friendly companies. Build that message clearly into your marketing materials; put a banner on your website; and consider supporting a top-rated veterans' charity like Wounded Warriors Family Fund or Operation Homefront.
Disney is a company that's been on the front lines of hiring veterans with its Heroes Work Here outreach program. By wearing its veteran recruiting strategy on its sleeve, Disney positions itself as an understanding and challenging home for ex-military members.

2. Build a supportive squad. Once you've opened your company's doors to veterans, it's time to welcome the new recruits aboard. Information technology company CACI International, with a veteran at its helm and about 30 percent of its hires coming from the veteran pool, is another organization doing it right.

CACI operates programs like the Vet Connect initiative, which partners its former service members with senior CACI employees to ensure a smooth transition.

Retaining high-performing vets takes more than perks; it requires support. Follow CACI's lead with a mentorship program that pairs veteran hires with long-time employees. Caring for veterans often means caring for their families at the same time, so implement policies like paid paternity leave and generous vacation time.

3. Plan for a long tour of duty. Retention is one of the main challenges facing both employers and veterans. According to the Institute for Veteran and Military Families, roughly two-thirds of veterans are likely to leave their first post-military jobs because 1) they don't feel their abilities are being fully utilized; 2) they need more compensation; or 3) they feel their work lacks meaning.

Last year, 20 percent of Starbucks' new hires were veterans. To retain its ex-military members, the java giant instituted a College Achievement Plan to allow veterans, their spouses or their children to earn degrees while working. Do the same: Institute incentives like continuing education, paid healthcare and stock options that indicate long-term commitment to a team member.

4. Showcase opportunities for advancement. Of veterans surveyed who had quickly left their first post-military jobs, 45 percent noted that they would have stayed had opportunities for advancement been available. Help veteran employees see a road ahead with career-planning workshops. Education reimbursement programs, too, can help veterans feel they're moving forward. Above all, promote from within. It's a simple policy, but selecting managers from rank-and-file employees is the best way to signal opportunities for advancement.

In a lot of ways, your business is like the USS Stennis. It runs on hard work, cooperation and strategic thinking. So keep your business on a path to victory by entrusting it to talented veterans. Our military heroes, if you give them a chance, could be your company's heroes, too.
Michael Gleason

Founder and CEO, InMyArea.com and Consumer Brands LLC

Michael Gleason, an entrepreneur and technology expert, is founder and CEO of InMyArea.com and Consumer Brands LLC, innovative technology and publishing companies based in Newport Beach, California

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