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Celebrating This Year's Veteran's Day by Valuing Veterans as Employees

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By Ellen Galinsky and Ken Matos

Veterans Day is a day when we honor Americans from all wars. As many of our veterans return from deployments, we suggest that we honor them not just with parades and accolades but also with active efforts to use and support their talents in the workforce.

Military service offers many Americans the opportunity to develop a wide range of technical, organizational and management skills. When military members return to civilian life, they bring this wealth of knowledge and experience to the civilian workplace. Still, many veterans struggle to find work. One of the cruelest twists of the current economic crisis is the high rate of unemployment among military veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unemployment among recent veterans grew to 13.3% by June 2011, more than four percentage points higher than the national average. These dedicated, hardworking men and women risked their lives protecting us. Why are so many of them unemployed?

High rates of unemployment among veterans stem from a number of underlying issues, including the challenge of comparing military experiences to civilian job requirements and connecting employers to available veteran employees. According to a June 2010 SHRM survey, 60% of responding HR professionals viewed translating military skills to the civilian job experience as a challenge to employing veterans. On the other hand, over 70% of HR professionals indicated that they want assistance in identifying and reaching out to qualified veterans.

Although a number of organizations have created initiatives to attract, recruit, support, and retain veterans and military family members, many of these efforts have remained unknown to other employers seeking to do the same. Thus, for the first time, the 2011 Sloan Awards for Excellence in Effective and Flexible Workplaces asked employers how they are supporting veterans and military families. Our intent is to share their strategies and lessons learned. The result is a new report profiling many of these inspiring yet very practical examples. Here are a few examples:

Employers provide mentoring activities for veteran job seekers to help them identify and market skills they learned in the military, find positions that require their most advanced skills, write resumes, and develop interview skills. For example, recruiters at the audit, tax, and advisory services company with 23,000 employees in the U.S., KPMG helps veterans stand out as desirable employees by providing resume writing and interview guidance.

Veterans seeking treatment for injuries or readjusting to civilian life may need to work flexibly. As an example, Booz Allen Hamilton, a business strategy and technology consulting with 25,000 employees in the U.S. offers job-sharing, flexible scheduling, part-time employment and child care services to veterans returning from deployment so they can better manage their work and family responsibilities.

Other employers have helped their veteran employees and their families continue to succeed despite experiencing setbacks. Among them is Capital One, a financial products and services with 27,000 employees in the U.S. They maintain a Disaster Recovery Grant that can help employees deal with sudden misfortune. After employees file an application describing their needs, Capital One usually responds and provides any awarded funds within 72 hours. The granted funds are not a loan so recipients do not need to worry about paying the money back to their employer.

Employers with large numbers of veteran employees have started veteran resource groups to provide forums for veteran employees to help one another. Some employers have instructed their veteran groups to:
  • identify priorities for veterans in the organization and develop plans for addressing them;
  • develop resource guides to help veterans as well as their coworkers understand the policies and benefits that apply to employees with military experience; and
  • develop business relationships and strategies that capitalize on their veterans' military experiences.

For instance, Cornell University established the Veterans Colleague Network Group for Faculty and Staff on campus in November 2010, led by the commanding officers of ROTC, to provide an opportunity for veterans and former military personnel from across the campus to connect and support the University's student veterans.

Military members and their families make great sacrifices to protect our country. Veterans can bring unique talents, fresh perspectives and intense dedication to the civilian job market, but their talents are often unrecognized or underutilized. Given the opportunity and the support to succeed, our veterans can continue to contribute to America's well-being -- not just on the battlefield -- but now in the marketplace. Nothing is a more fitting way to celebrate them this Veteran's Day on 11/11/11 and in the future.