Veterans are superbly trained, diverse, innovative, reliable, hardworking, dedicated citizens, and many possess skills that are highly transferable. Despite all this, an unemployment gap remains between the post-9/11 generation of veterans and non-veterans: the Bureau of Labor Statistics' spring 2013 data indicate 9.2 percent unemployment among new veterans compared with 7.6 percent among non-vets. This disparity persists despite pledges by organizations of all sizes, across industries, to hire more veterans. So what's going on?
As I've written before, culture may well play a role in this gap. For one, hiring managers and veterans can miss each other as a result of confusing jargon (on both sides) and resume-filtering software that isn't optimized to search for the idiosyncrasies of a veteran's resume. Also, there may not be buy-in across organizations for veteran-hiring initiatives. A hiring manager may well ask himself (as I have from time to time): why should I hire Sally Jones, who is a veteran, versus John Doe, who is not a veteran, but who has three years of experience in the applicable role or industry? The answer will not come from adherence to a corporate pledge -- the hiring manager must be aware of the intrinsic value veterans can bring to an organization, and believe that hiring a veteran isn't an act of charity, it's a smart investment.
Let's highlight some of the returns on investment for hiring veterans:
▪ Experience beyond GI:JOE: Despite the stereotypes, there is incredible diversity in military service. Considering each of the distinct branches and the 2,000-plus occupational specialties therein, veterans' work experience reflects the needs of a $692 billion organization and includes strategic communications and public relations; finance, program, and project management; human resources; and much more. All this diversity means that whatever the needs of your organization, there is a veteran, National Guardsman, or Reservist who can meet them.
▪ Well-vetted for life and death situations, let alone the 9-to-5: Veterans have been vetted by one of the most particular and selective organizations in the world -- the U.S. military. During their military career, service members are tested repeatedly to ensure their intellectual, mental, and emotional strength. Military leadership understands that the consequences of failing to accurately assess, promote, and, when necessary, demote personnel can mean the difference between life and death. Just as a college degree means that an applicant has mastered her studies, an honorable discharge means that a veteran has been trained to perform complex, specialized work and has been tested in very demanding circumstances.
▪ Experience in dynamic, high-impact environments: Few civilian occupations will force a veteran to sustain the same kinds of pressure faced in the military. Adaptability and resilience are built into every veteran's experience: changing jobs and locations every two to three years, working across multiple disciplines with little to no training, and more. Their 'performance target' is excellence -- with little room for failure or error.
▪ "Management experience a plus": It's not uncommon for veterans in their early twenties to manage multi-million dollar budgets, challenging logistics, and dozens or even hundreds of their peers.
▪ Problem solvers and consummate planners: The scale and dynamism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have required service members to become skilled problem solvers. They are trained to internalize the intent of their superiors, then figure out how to get the job done.
▪ Who needs a ropes course to learn teamwork?: It isn't surprising that so many corporate teamwork and leadership exercises are modeled on military training. Basic training teaches young people to put the needs of their team ahead of their own, to trust their teammates, and to be deserving of others' trust. They learn to lead, follow, and communicate up, down, and across.
When you hire a veteran, you get an individual who has all these skills ingrained in their basic understanding of a work environment. But that's just the beginning. What happens after you've hired a veteran? How can you best support her at work?
▪ Learn military culture to counter stigma and understand how you can make the best use of the veteran's skills and experiences.
▪ Establish an information exchange program between veterans, National Guardsmen and Reservists, and civilian employees to help bridge the gaps between their different experiences and to foster learning.
▪ Create a peer network for veterans on staff to develop camaraderie and build internal support.
▪ Ensure that management is familiar with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and that new employees understand the policies.
▪ Consider participating in Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Programs that help veteran employees and their families re-adjust to the workforce.
For more information about how to support vets in the workplace, download these useful guides from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA): "America's Veterans: Untapped Resources for Your Corporate Success" and "Supporting Veterans, National Guardsmen, and Reservists in the Workplace."
Now, where can you find veterans to hire? One way is to post jobs on IAVA's Career Pathfinder, an innovative and comprehensive jobs tool targeted at recent veterans. Designed to be more holistic than other job boards, it includes a resume builder and career mapping guide as well as a unique military skills translator tool, which allows veterans to type in their MOC (military occupation code) and get a list of skills, experience, and attributes associated with their specific role. For example, someone who was an "11B" (infantry, enlisted), will receive a list of thirteen different skills he can choose from when describing his military experience. Career Pathfinder allows organizations and veterans to find each other easily, helping to connect veterans and the civilian workplace.
We have the shared responsibility and opportunity to support new veterans in their transition out of the military and into the workforce. Let's show America's new Greatest Generation that we've got their backs.
Derek Bennett is the Chief of Staff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, overseeing the organization's strategy and daily operations. A combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Derek attended Harvard Business School and previously worked at the Boston Consulting Group. Follow him on twitter @dhb00.