The Business Case for Hiring Vets
By Michael Roney
Here’s a powerful business strategy for you: veterans. Those who have served are in great demand these days by many of the nation’s leading companies, as evidenced by scores of corporate programs aimed at attracting, hiring and training individuals who are transitioning from the military to private-sector careers.
Hiring vets is a worthy social initiative, since service members returning to private life face an unemployment rate that’s greater than 15%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet hiring vets also offers a strategic benefit, and professionals who focus on the military community as a high-potential talent pool—from C-suite strategists to human resource directors—are quick to point out the many notable attributes that make veterans ideal employees for any company looking to grow, compete and succeed in today’s marketplace.
“We have a continuing need for highly skilled, motivated workers, particularly as the present wave of the baby boom generation retires,” states Tom Farrell, CEO of Dominion, one of the nation’s largest energy providers. “Military workers offer those qualities and more. They’re safety-conscious, disciplined individuals who are exactly the kind of folks that we need at Dominion and in our industry.”
Ray Weeks, a former Marine Officer and Vice President of Veterans Initiatives for financial services leader Prudential, agrees. “Veterans have demonstrated leadership qualities. They’ve shown commitment to what they’ve done, they’re disciplined, they have the ability to perform under challenging conditions and, most importantly, they’ve been trained to work. So they have the underpinnings and attributes that we think make sense to leverage and build upon as part of a talent acquisition strategy.”
Reaching Out to a Powerful Workforce
Some of the country’s largest corporations are reaching out with a range of innovative recruitment and training programs, often through partnerships. Among the most notable examples:
Cooperation within industry and among government agencies is a key factor in building and maintaining successful veteran outreach programs. This dynamic is apparent in the numerous projects already under way and expanding under many of the nation’s most recognizable corporate brands.
Financial services mainstay USAA, which serves 8.2 million U.S. military personnel and their families, has a robust annual veteran-based hiring goal of 25%. Today, USAA’s military representation is more than 20% of its 23,000 employees, and it continues to build programs designed to increase military hiring. “Military service and its underlying values are embedded in USAA’s DNA,” says Erica Banks, USAA’s director of talent programs and a former Air Force communications officer who still serves in the Air Force Reserve.
Earlier this year, Dominion partnered with other utilities, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and several government agencies on an initiative called Troops to Energy Jobs, which helps veterans accelerate their degree attainment for employment in that sector. “Over this pilot program year we’re going to examine the level of training that is needed across the various parts of our industry,” says CEO Tom Farrell. “We’ll match that to the training and skills that military personnel have learned and developed in the service in order to find the efficiencies. We know that thousands of smart grid and other traditional energy jobs are going to be opening up all over the country over the next decade, so there will be a tremendous opportunity for both our industry and military personnel.”
One of Prudential’s top partnerships for veterans is VETalent, conducted in partnership with Rutgers University under Prudential’s Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS) initiative. One VETalent program track offers a complete scholarship to veterans that earns them a Certificate in Application & Software Development. Additionally, veterans receive a weekly stipend for part-time work during the school period. Graduates then have an opportunity to work for Prudential as full-time consultants—an opportunity that can then turn into a permanent job there or elsewhere.
VETalent’s first class of 23 vets, which graduated in June, includes Lou Isip, who as a sergeant in the Marines was deployed three times to Iraq between 2004 and 2008 as part of a Harrier Squadron in Yuma, AZ. “Once I got out in 2009, I started going to school and worked in a call center, which personally I only could have done for so long,” he says.
Studying criminal justice with the intent of entering law enforcement, a knee problem threatened Isip’s long-term career plans. But good fortune intervened. “I received an e-mail about the Prudential program from the Rutgers Student Veterans Organization and decided that this would be a great opportunity for me. It was a blessing,” he says. “Although I didn’t initially see myself sitting down at a desk and working on web applications, this program is providing me with a great stepping stone into a career.”
Global technology and defense leader Raytheon has announced a five-year, $2.5 million grant to expand education initiatives and support the development of a new cybersecurity training program for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). “We’re committed to helping a generation of wounded warriors become economically empowered by learning new skills to transition successfully into the next stage of their lives,” says Bob Connors, Raytheon’s director of preparedness and WWP liaison. In 2006, the Transition Training Academy (TTA) was founded as a partnership between Cisco, the U.S. Department of Labor, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, the Office of Disability Employment Policy and the WWP. To date, the program has provided 1,173 participants and 966 graduated students with the opportunity to learn both standard and advanced IT skills.
The consensus among hiring managers is that vets have proven leadership qualities, they are
dependable and accountable, and they understand that their mission affects the entire organization.
The fundamental question for employers looking at former military is, “Who gets the vets?” In other words, who understands their backgrounds, their skill sets, their abilities and their culture—and who is prepared to hire them into a nurturing environment with career development opportunities? The primary concern of a vet—“What do I have to offer, and how do I fit in there?”—is a key challenge, along with the ability of both the employer and the veteran to translate military skills into corporate language on a resume or in interviews.
“Not only do we help the service members with transition and job-seeking skills, we also train the hiring managers on what those skills mean so that when they see the veterans, they fully understand the value they offer,” says Mike Kelly, USAA’s executive director for military communications and a retired Air Force officer.
USAA’s Erica Banks adds that her company is constantly striving to help its entire employee base better understand the military experience and how it translates to a civilian career. “Everyone here has access to online and classroom training that provides insight into the military way of life. Likewise, our management programs for those who have been selected to lead here often feature panels of veterans to provide more insight on what it’s like to have served in the military, and how they make that corporate transition,” she says.
Raytheon’s Operation Phoenix is another program that teaches key job-seeking skills to veterans who are looking to enter the private sector. “We focus on things like resume writing, how to present yourself effectively in an interview and how to move yourself through various points in the recruiting cycle,” notes Bob Foley, the company’s wounded warrior recruiting program manager. “One of the first challenges for people coming out of the military is that it’s a big cultural transition. They have gone ahead and volunteered and served their country, and now are looking to transition into something else that’s a good fit both culturally and personally—something they certainly feel here.”
“I am proud to work for an association that, at its core, has a profound and indisputable connection
to veterans and their families, both as members and highly valued employees. The connection is
natural and makes good business sense, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.”
Shon Manasco, Chief People Services Officer, USAA
(West Point Class of 1992)
The consensus among hiring managers is that vets have proven leadership qualities, they are dependable and accountable, and they understand that their mission affects the entire organization.
Dennis Norman, a 24-year Air Force veteran and benefits advisor on USAA’s People Services team, works with vets every day on a range of issues, from work-life balance programs to how we deliver those programs to employees, retirees and their families. “Once you’ve served in the military, you know what it’s like to be a part of a team with a common goal and objective, a sense of purpose and a mission,” he notes. “The leadership, communication and time-management skills that are developed to a high degree in military training lead to some very strong management and leadership skills.”
“Veterans typically bring some attributes that are not usually very teachable—they bring a terrific sense of work ethic, commitment and discipline,” says Paul Clegg, Raytheon’s vice president of talent acquisition. “It’s a variety of things they can bring to the table; but what ultimately makes their hiring a good business decision is that they’re used to functioning in teams and working in environments with interdependencies, and they readily adapt to different kinds of situations.”
Like many of his colleagues, Dominion’s Farrell believes that every company needs to have a strategic plan for coping with workforce turnover over the next decade. “The energy industry has a particular stake in bringing in talented vets,” he states. “The increasingly technical nature of our business, with smart grid coming in, means that we’re all going to have to replace and retrofit large portions of our generation fleet over the next decade. The skills taught in the modern military are very complementary to that. The strategic imperative is replacing the current workforce with an as-qualified or even more-qualified workforce, and the Troops to Energy Jobs initiative is particularly aimed at that need.”
“Our work at Raytheon directly affects our war fighters day in and day out,” says Clegg. “So we believe pretty strongly that through engagement with veterans as they leave the service, we can be helpful to their development—directly, and with employment opportunities elsewhere. The commitment our own employees have in supporting the military and veterans is fundamental to what we do, and it also makes good business sense for us.”
Government Support for Veteran Employment
Recognizing the nation’s responsibility to support those who have served, as well as their unique value to the workforce, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) administers a broad range of Congressionally mandated job training counseling services and employment placement programs, providing resources and expertise to assist veterans in finding meaningful careers. Some of the many notable VETS initiatives include:
For more information, visit www.dol.gov/vets
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