The Business Case for Hiring Vets
By Susan H. Burnell
Hiring and transitioning veterans into the workplace strengthens any organization. With only minimal effort and cost, more companies are becoming veteran friendly. Employers are finding loyal, dedicated and highly motivated leaders among the nation’s veterans and active members of the National Guard and Reserve. They are also finding incentives to hire veterans and better resources for locating them.
A Trained, Ready and Proven Source of Talent
The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has been raising awareness about the value of hiring veterans since the 1980s. VETS is also launching new initiatives to increase engagement with employers, with a particular emphasis on the private sector.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has made veterans’ employment one of her top priorities. “Veterans are peak performers. In today’s economy, employers know they have to get their hiring decisions right. Veterans are a proven source of talent. They can provide an immediate bottom-line benefit because they are already credentialed, and their skills have been shaped and tested under the most challenging circumstances,” says Solis.
Some employers may not be aware that 80% of all jobs in the private sector have a correlation in the military. This fact opens some eyes, says Ray Jefferson, VETS Assistant Secretary. “The military produces surgeons, scientists, engineers, photographers, technicians and many other skilled workers, along with the significant advantage of cross-cultural experience.”
This year, VETS has awarded nearly $209 million in grants for veterans’ job training and employment. Matching up veterans with job opportunities is easier with the introduction of a new online resource, the Veterans’ Hiring Toolkit, which is part of DOL’s “America’s Heroes at Work” initiative. Created by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), it is designed to guide employers through the process for hiring veterans. The free toolkit assists and educates employers who seek to recruit and hire veterans and wounded warriors.
Tips for Hiring Vets
The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) recommends these steps for developing veterans’ hiring initiatives:
Learn more about available resources at: AmericasHeroesAtWork.gov/forEmployers/HiringToolkit
“Many employers have told us that they are interested in developing or enhancing a veterans’ hiring initiative for their company, but that they don’t know where to begin,” says John McWilliam, VETS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations and Management. “The toolkit simplifies the process and puts valuable, vetted resources at the employer’s fingertips.” Additional online resources now under development will further streamline and strengthen connections between job-seeking veterans and private-sector employers.
Beyond raising awareness of the value of veterans in the workforce among employers, VETS helps exiting service members make the transition. “We provide access to a number of programs that help veterans obtain meaningful careers, including a new pilot program with chambers of commerce in 14 states,” says Jefferson. The agency also helps to protect the employment rights of veterans.
VETS is also about to launch a cutting-edge, new and improved version of its Transition Assistance Program. “While VETS serves as the federal government’s lead agency for veterans’ employment, it accomplishes this mission by working in close partnership with the VA, DoD, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), all of whom are making significant contributions to helping veterans,” adds Jefferson. For example:
The focus of these collective efforts is to enable a greater diversity of veterans to effectively serve their employers.
“Veterans are peak performers. In today’s economy, employers know they have to get
their hiring decisions right. Veterans are a proven source of talent. They can provide
an immediate bottom-line benefit because they are already credentialed, and their
skills have been shaped and tested under the most challenging circumstances.”
Hilda S. Solis, U.S. Secretary of Labor
One thing that separates good companies from great companies is talent, says Robb E. Van Cleave, 2009–2010 chair for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Human capital is every company’s most valuable asset, and veterans provide a ready-made pool of top talent. Hiring them can result in an immediate and positive impact.”
Among companies and organizations that have hired military veterans, the performance feedback for such employees is stellar. Roughly 97% of HR professionals surveyed by SHRM said military veterans bring a strong sense of responsibility to their work.
In the past three years, 53% of employers surveyed by SHRM reported they had hired veterans. More employers need to take a proactive approach, just as they have with hiring women and minorities, says Van Cleave, a former mayor of The Dalles, Oregon, and now chief talent and strategy officer for Columbia Gorge Community College. “HR professionals can help them understand how to find and keep veterans on the workforce. We can help them accommodate wounded warriors. When they see that it is not difficult or cost-prohibitive to hire disabled veterans, they can access an even larger talent pool.”
Educating corporate leaders about the benefits of military-trained workers is not as easy as it used to be. In 1980, 59% of CEOs in publicly traded companies had military experience. By 2006, that number had fallen to 8%, according to a Harvard University and MIT study from November 2009. “Executives may not fully understand the opportunities out there,” says Van Cleave. “Yet, long before the business world took ownership of the concept of strategic planning, military personnel were being trained in strategy, leadership, professionalism and other mission-critical skills.”
SHRM, the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management, represents more than 250,000 members in over 140 countries. The Society has partnered with VETS on several programs to bring issues of veterans’ employment to the forefront.
Top Ten Reasons to Hire Members of the National Guard and Reserve
10. GAIN GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE: Your military employees are tuned in to what’s going on in the world.
9. ON TIME, ALL THE TIME: Military employees know that every second counts.
8. FIRST-CLASS IMAGE: A professional appearance is a must in the military.
7. CALM UNDER PRESSURE: A military employee knows how to handle stress, both off and on the job.
6. CAN-DO ATTITUDE: Military employees always project a positive attitude.
5. PHYSICAL CONDITIONING: Military employees are in top physical condition and are drug free.
4. MISSION-CRITICAL SKILLS: Fulfilling tasks is mandatory. Your employees know how to face projects head-on.
3. RESPONSIBILITY: Military personnel know how to make decisions and take responsibility to meet a deadline.
2. PROFESSIONALISM: Military employees have an air of self-respect and a sense of honor.
1. LEADERSHIP: Military employees are already leaders and managers. They are loyal, dedicated and highly motivated.
Source: Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR)
The advantages to employers who hire veterans are substantial, says Craig Henzel, senior director in finance at Merck & Co., Inc. “You know you are getting tangible value when you hire a vet. These are hardworking, extremely adaptable individuals who are used to learning new skills. Employers who hire veterans are getting people who know how to lead a team and be good team members.”
Merck was among the 15 employers out of 2,500 submissions honored in September 2010 with the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for support of their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.
Merck was recognized for its proactive approach to hiring and supporting veterans in the workforce. One major effort is the company’s Veterans Leadership Network (VLN), founded in 2009 by Henzel and a small group of dedicated Merck employees. Henzel, who serves as the VLN president, brings to the role experience with similar affinity groups at former employers GE and Johnson & Johnson, and the perspective of an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserves.
The VLN has helped Merck identify and employ a greater number of military-trained candidates, including those with service-connected disabilities. Once those veterans are in the door, the VLN provides mentoring programs and helps these employees make the adjustment from military to corporate life.
The network has successfully raised the visibility of veterans within Merck. It also has been instrumental in a program that recruits potential candidates into a rotational program designed to leverage their special skills. All this has culminated in Merck being named in the Top 100 Military Friendly Employers across America for the second straight year. “We have increased participation by more than 200% this year,” says Henzel. “We’ve seen a great candidate pool and have made offers to service members from multiple branches of the military. The excitement is building.”
“Veterans show up on time and work hard,” says Henzel. “They have the core values that hiring managers and executives appreciate. And remember that while team leaders in the military are working on developing strategy and accomplishing a mission, they also are great at developing their people at the same time. That translates into real value for any employer.”
Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS)
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