I left active duty more than six years ago after a full career in the Navy. My transition to the private sector workforce has been an exciting and positive experience, thanks to relevant skills, a sound leadership experience and a supportive network.
Unfortunately, not all our veterans share my story. Our youngest vets especially face an uphill climb in their transition to the workforce after their military service. Challenges for vets run from high unemployment and underemployment levels to lack of transition support, poor mental health and high suicide rates.
Business leaders are in a unique position where they can support our veterans, while also adding tremendous value to their businesses. Leaders who recruit and hire veterans tap into one of the most diverse, well-trained, committed and loyal talent pools around the world. These businesses provide veterans with meaningful work and a sense of belonging, while also strengthening their workforce.
Many companies already are supporting vets in transition. They have formal recruiting, onboarding, and workforce awareness programs to ensure vets successfully transition to meaningful roles. CEOs should touch base with HR to determine whether their company has a formal veteran onboarding process.
“Leaders who recruit and hire veterans tap into one of the most diverse, well-trained, committed and loyal talent pools around the world.”
But it’s important for all leaders to take their veteran hiring and onboarding to the next level, because what’s being done today is simply not enough. According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study, American businesses have made strides in hiring veterans, but a “civilian-military divide” still persists, and more is required. Our veterans are in crisis, and American businesses and leaders have both an opportunity and an obligation to do more.
Beyond a moral obligation, helping vets is simply good business. While misconceptions linger about vets not fitting in or being too rigid, the reality is they are strong leaders and innovative problem solvers. Companies that have programs to onboard vets consider them some of their best employees.
If you don’t already have an active program to hire and onboard vets, here are some tips on how to get started.
Recruit veterans. Many Veterans organizations host job fairs and are actively seeking employers to participate. In addition, the military branches offer transitioning vets support through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Employers can post jobs with TAP and better attract Veterans and their families.
Hire for attitude and leadership skills. Veterans thrive on responsibility, and they’re not afraid of figuring out things they may not fully understand. In my experience leading large organizations both in the military and in the corporate world, positive attitude and leadership experience are without a doubt more valuable than certifications and technical skills. Leaders who hire for these attributes will find themselves with results-oriented leaders who are able to get things done.
Learn to speak their language. A critical part of transitioning from military to civilian work is being able to translate military skills to the civilian workplace. The VA and transition assistance programs work with Veterans to translate their military skills to the language of business. But leaders must also learn the language of the military men and women they’re working to bring onboard. In one Vet-friendly company, I met with representatives of an employee Veteran’s resource group who worked closely with the HR department to help them understand the skills veterans bring to the table, and create a vet-friendly environment. If your company doesn’t have those resources, consider shoring up your HR department by bringing in someone who has that knowledge.
Train and mentor through the onboarding process. Any new hire needs extra care and feeding to learn the ropes. Veterans are no exception. Spending the time upfront to train and mentor vets can help shorten the time to competency and increase the likelihood they will stay. Syracuse University has created a toolkit for Leading Practices in Veteran’s employment, including the onboarding process.
Cultivate a vet-friendly culture. It’s not enough to recruit and hire Veterans. Leaders need to develop a culture not of awe, but of understanding. While military service used to be common, today, fewer and fewer citizens will ever serve, resulting in a lack of understanding. The same U.S. Chamber study that found the “civilian-military divide” found that while more businesses are hiring Vets, greater efforts are required as Veterans are onboarded – such as training to help co-workers understand the unique attributes of military service. Organizations like PsychArmor Institute exist to help bridge the gap between civilians and military in the US.
Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) once remarked, “Every year, on [Veteran’s Day], we offer our veterans our heartfelt thanks for the valiant service they have rendered in defending our nation… But we cannot remember our veterans each November 11, only to soon forget all they have endured to preserve our freedom and make America the greatest country on earth. Just as we benefit each day from their vigilance and their bravery, we must make sure that each day they are treated with the profound respect they have earned.”
It is time for businesses and leaders to deliberately and intentionally honor our vets. Not for a day, but for a lifetime. Take action to put them back to work. Include them. Make them part of the team. Cultivate a culture that understands them and lets them know they are not alone. They answered the call of duty. Now it’s time to answer ours.