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Hiring Veterans: A Great Investment for Employers

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Linda Jefferson
November 18, 2014 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 21.4 million veterans in 2013. In that same summary, the BLS indicated there were 722,000 unemployed veterans in 2013. As the U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, more veterans are and will be looking to enter the civilian workforce.

The United States Code 38 defines veteran as “a person who served in the active military, naval or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” Some studies include members of the Armed Forces reservists in their definition of veterans.

Veterans served our country with honor, pride, integrity, courage and “selfless service.” It is with this same “selfless service” that veterans want to bring to the civilian workforce.

Jefferson novHiring veterans is a great investment for employers. Veterans have proven leadership skills, complex problem-solving abilities, resiliency, respect for procedures, technology expertise and adeptness at working under stressful situations. They also bring success in working in a team environment. These are just a few skills identified by Margaret Harrell and Nancy Berglass in their report, Employing America’s Veterans – Perspectives from Businesses, and listed in an article by Capt. Benjamin Jones. Let’s take a closer look at these skills.

Leadership – According to Capt. Jones, “The military trains service members to lead by example as well as through direction, delegation, motivation and inspiration.” Veterans lead vertically and horizontally, meaning they understand hierarchy and can function well in peer-to-peer situations.

Problem-solving – Veterans are trained to solve complex problems in stressful situations. They are trained to find alternatives in rapidly changing conditions. This skill is a definite plus in an organization experiencing change, in an industry with rapidly changing markets or in the public sector where public policies intersect with social, economic and political systems.

Resiliency – Harrell and Berglass reported that “Veterans are accustomed to working in difficult environments, and to traveling and relocating.”

Respect for Procedures – Veterans understand that processes and procedures serve a purpose in organizations. Veterans are trained to follow procedures and know the possible consequences when procedures are not followed. Respect for procedures is a great asset in a government or regulatory setting.

Technology Savvy – The U.S. Armed Forces is on the leading edge of technological advances. Organizations can leverage veterans’ technology expertise to outpace the competition or breathe new life into organizations behind the technology curve ball.

Teamwork – According to Capt. Jones, veterans understand being accountable to their colleagues. They understand how groups interrelate with each other in the accomplishment of the organization’s objectives.

While many employers recognize the great investment in hiring veterans, some report challenges and risks with doing so. Some of the challenges included difficulty translating military skills to the civilian workforce, concerns about future deployments, acclimation and negative stereotypes. Let’s explore the challenges mentioned in this article.

All in the Translation – Employers are looking for individuals that fit the job posting as close as possible. Harrell and Berglass note that some employers have difficulty understanding what veterans did in the military and how that experience can benefit the organization. Veterans and employers can both use a job skills translator that will help convert military experience to similar jobs in the civilian workforce.

Future DeploymentsEmployers are concerned that veterans, particularly reservists, may be deployed or redeployed. Employers are concerned that veterans may be deployed for long periods of time and for small businesses that means cutting into productivity.

Acclimation – Some organizations are concerned that veterans will not “fit” in with their company culture, according to Harrell and Berglass. “Other employers believe veterans will need additional resources from the company or that veterans should not be hired immediately after returning from service.” Indeed, it is a culture shock for some veterans transitioning from military to civilian life.

Negative Stereotypes – Harrell and Berglass wrote that some employers worry that veterans may suffer from anger issues, violent tendencies and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet other employers express concerns that veterans are “too rigid” for their environment.

Veterans are a valuable resource and a great investment for employers. They offer diverse skills that can only enhance the organization. They are known for their tenacity and ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. Veterans are dependable, loyal and mission centered. They are focused.

Hiring a veteran requires some effort on the part of the employer. It requires the employer to make a concerted effort to understand veterans, understand the laws governing hiring veterans and create an environment where veterans feel welcomed.

Veterans must also do their part. They must help educate employers, prepare for interviews and help employers see how their military experience can benefit their organization. It is helpful for veterans to become familiar with the jargon of the industry in which they wish to pursue a career.

Author: Linda Jefferson, SPHR, CPM, MPA is a human resources professional with 25 plus years experience in the public sector. She is the Immediate Past President of the North Carolina Society of Certified Public Managers. she can be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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