The qualities that make great soldiers are the same ones prized by hiring managers across all industries: Punctuality. Reliability. Respect. Versatility. Dedication.
Military veterans comprise a rich talent pool for civilian employers, but the path from military service to jobs with civilian employers often has bumps and misconceptions. Employers don’t necessarily know where to find potential recruits, how to attract and retain them, or how to equate their military experience with civilian job demands. Veterans, for their part, sometimes don’t know where to look for opportunities, how to promote themselves, or how to explain the ways in which their skills can translate.
Those gaps were addressed in From Day One’s recent webinar, “American Military Veterans: Tapping a Rich Talent Pool,” with veterans themselves and other experts offering insights into how to train, recruit, encourage and develop workers from the armed forces.
Key for companies is to recognize that the worker shortages in many industries today aren’t because potential hires lack credentials or education, said Dave Harrison, executive director of national apprenticeships for Fastport, a software company that build products to help job seekers, particularly military-community members, find meaningful employment and apprenticeship training.
The challenge for many employers today, he said, is in “finding people–to be rather direct–who can show up on time, pass a drug screen, can work in a changing environment and stay focused, can work as part of a team, and can overcome obstacles. That’s the hardest thing to find in today’s modern era. Those soft skills [are] what every industry is wrestling over right now.”
Delaney Rea, driver services manager for Melton Truck Lines, whose apprenticeship program and recruitment has a particular focus on veterans, said that members of the military “fit very well into our culture,” especially because of “the pride they take in their work.”
“They have this culture of representing us well and being part of a larger team,” Rea said, adding: “We can find people with Class A [truck-driving] licenses. But if they don’t take that pride in their work, they’re actually being more than just not representing us well. They’re also being unsafe.” Veterans, in contrast, “are just the most outstanding employees that we’ve been able to have–and [they have] that understanding of hierarchy, as well."
Julie De La Mora, a regional recruiting director for Allied Universal, a security-services company with more than 250,000 employees, made similar observations, colored by her own military experience and firsthand perspective.
“We thrive on being proud and doing what we do best,” she said of veterans, adding: “We have the values that were instilled in us when we first joined the military, and also the sense of belonging and urgency and not leaving anyone else behind.”
All of those qualities resonate with businesses and other employers, participants said. “I would say every employer that I’ve worked with, they’ll of course cite veterans’ core values of discipline and accountability, understanding chain of command,” said Katie Adams, CEO of Apprenticeship Services Group. But the less straightforward aspect is getting veterans in the door in the first place.
“What we’re seeing now is that employers are really having to break away from traditional methods of recruiting, hiring, evaluating talent,” Adams said. “And so they’re really having to look more broadly at, what are the skills, credentials, certifications? What [do] those credentials and certifications mean? The employers that are going to succeed are the ones that do their homework to figure out what those military ratings equate to. If someone was in artillery in the army, don’t write them off. There’s a lot of logistical, technical work that they’ve done. And they have the capacity to turn around pretty quickly and do that in a different environment.”
Much of the onus lies on hiring managers to identify and gauge veterans’ capabilities as well as transferable skills, said Nick Curry, a veteran who heads military recruiting and apprenticeships at Amazon Web Services.
“Veterans have a certain determination and grit that we all look for in Corporate America,” Curry said. “But to drill down a little bit deeper, I think what separates veterans is that the core values that most of the veterans are exposed to, in their branches of services, really closely align to Amazon’s 14 leadership principles, so much so that we actually prefer to hire people that are cultural fits almost more than we need their technical skills, because working at Amazon and the culture of Amazon is so important to us. That’s why it’s so easy for us to hire from the military community.”
“But you know, to specifically call out something,” continued Curry, “it’s because veterans have the ability to learn a lot of new skills very quickly, which is important in our technical, fast-paced world. And they don’t give up when the going gets tough. And that’s something we see a lot from other types of hires. But the military community really can persevere."
Translating Military Skills Into Civilian
Many veterans come to the job market with relevant technical skills for specialized jobs, as Adams mentioned, but the transferability of those skills to the civilian workplace needs to be highlighted. “There may be someone that comes out of the army that had worked in cryptography [and] they have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in computer science–you just don’t know it,” Curry said. “And so it’s up to the hiring manager. Again, the traditional methods of recruiting, evaluating and hiring talent aren’t working. And so these folks have to get innovative and be able to speak the veterans’ language.”
An integral part of doing that means engaging veterans already employed by other organizations, whether it’s through recruitment or mentorship, participants said. “The best advertising any employer can have is to take care of someone in transition [from the military], because that word of mouth to the next people that they served with will mean much more than a million-dollars’ worth of advertising,” Fastport’s Harrison said.
Once those veteran employees are trained and supported, their contributions are invaluable and they, too, can help others make the transition. Webinar moderator Lydia Dishman, contributing editor for Fast Company, referred to a LinkedIn study finding that “veterans are 39% more likely to be promoted earlier than non-veterans.”
“The critical time for a veteran in transition is in the first six months,” Harrison said. “If you get them past the first six months, you’ve got a good chance of keeping them a long time. And they will thrive after that first, six-month period.”
That’s where mentorship comes into play, he said. “If you want to engage the situation in that first six-month window, where you avoid miscommunication, try to pair someone with another veteran who’s been in your culture,” he said. “They can communicate with that person much more effectively. A mentor doesn’t have to be 24/7, just somebody to talk to, to resolve any confusion they have. You would be amazed at how big a difference that makes in both retention and just overall productivity.”
Providing Resources to Help With the Transition
Veteran-focused employee resource groups (ERGs) are another helpful buttress, especially when companies and organizations get a more comprehensive sense of the veteran experience, said Curry. “Understanding the community better is really up to us as the employers, and we need to be doing more to help educate the service members on how to prepare for biases and make adjustments,” he said. If employers “don’t have a business resource group or an affinity group for your employees to participate in, you’re going to make them feel isolated when they come into a new environment,” he said.
Other resources to help veterans with transition include tech tools to hone resumes by translating military attributes into civilian speak. Networking and support are also absolutely vital, whether it’s through government agencies, nonprofits, or social media for veterans and their families. “We belong to a lot of social-media platforms where we connect with a lot of the groups for military spouses, so I’ve made sure that each one of my military recruiters, as well as our regional recruiters, join all of those groups,” De La Mora said, later adding: “We are looking at transitioning our veterans who not only have their spouses, but also their kids that are of age to start working. We’ve got entry-level positions for them and we connect with the state resources,” which in many cases offer funding to train young people in the 18-to-24 age bracket.
Veterans and their families tend to have a shared sense of purpose and service, Rea said she learned from experience. Tapping into that spirit helps attract and keep them as employees. “You’re trying to recruit a workforce of people who have raised their hand to serve our country,” she said. “They clearly have a passion beyond themselves and [for] what they can do to continue to serve–and that’s one of the things that we’ve highlighted a lot in trucking. I mean, who impacts our country more than our truck drivers, who touch every single industry and keep the rest of us going? That’s been a huge part of how we’ve attracted talent,” Rea said.
"So yes, we do have some other attractions for them to come here–benefits and stuff. But sometimes that’s the sole reason someone picks it–because they want to do something impactful to continue serving their country.”
Sheila Flynn is an Austin-based freelance journalist who has written for the Associated Press, Daily Mail, Irish Times and Sunday Independent (Ireland). She is the proud daughter of Vietnam veteran and Bronze Star recipient John Flynn, who served with the 101st Airborne Division in the A Shau Valley in 1968-69. Upon his return to the U.S., he spent decades installing phone systems for AT&T and Lucent in New York City before starting his own telecom business.