By 2021, the number of veterans of the United States Armed Forces in the civilian labor force is expected to rise from 10.6 million to 12.1 million. These men and women bring with them well-honed skill sets in a wide range of occupations, as well as valuable soft skills such as discipline, communication skills, and problem-solving abilities. Yet while 45 percent of U.S. hiring managers are experiencing difficulty finding qualified candidates, they frequently fail to recognize the capabilities of former military personnel due to miscommunication, misconceptions, and veterans’ lack of experience in the civilian job market. By creating a veteran-friendly company culture and adjusting their talent acquisition strategies, employers can leverage the unique strengths of former military personnel to advance their business objectives while simultaneously giving back to veterans and their communities.
In 2016, there were approximately 10.6 million veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces in the civilian workforce. Almost 4 million were former Gulf War-era II military personnel who served on active duty at any time after September 2001. Another 1.5 million veterans are expected to enter the U.S. workforce by 2021. With years of training and experience under their belts, these individuals possess the technical, professional, and soft skills that make them ideal contributors to the U.S. workforce and potentially valuable assets to non-institutional employers.
Interestingly, while 45 percent of U.S. hiring managers report difficulties filling roles due to candidates’ lack of experience, soft skills, and technical competencies, the majority of employers in the non-profit and for-profit sectors fail to recognize the value veterans can bring to their organizations. In the following paragraphs, we’ll briefly explore the causes of this disconnect, how employers can adapt their talent strategies to attract and retain veterans, and what the business benefits are of hiring former military personnel.
Miscommunication and misconceptions
Veterans who enter the civilian workforce come from a wide array of fields including combat operations, engineering, construction, healthcare, life sciences, education, accounting, HR, business administration, communications, and IT. In addition to their professional and/or technical skills, they possess valuable soft skills such as communication skills, problem-solving capabilities, and the ability to work in a team. They’re also loyal, disciplined, and have a strong work ethic, plus, many possess outstanding leadership and decision-making skills. Moreover, they’re adaptable—a quality that’s especially valuable in this time of technological disruption.
Because their knowledge, skills, and performance meet or surpass the standards upheld by the U.S. military at the time of their service, veterans are clearly the well-rounded and experienced candidates many employers are looking for. So why aren’t hiring managers recognizing and tapping into this vast group of top talent?
There are a several reasons for this. First and foremost, there’s a significant cultural disparity between the armed forces and non-institutional organizations that can hinder clear communications. A lack of familiarity with military culture and lingo can make it challenging for hiring managers to fully grasp and appreciate the extent of veterans’ skills, responsibilities, and accomplishments. This is frequently compounded by veterans’ inability to translate their military experience into achievements that civilians understand—and in a manner that demonstrates how their skills are transferable to the civilian workforce. As a result, many hiring managers don’t know how to accurately assess veterans’ eligibility for specific roles. Unfortunately for all concerned, this perceived skills gap results in veterans being underemployed and underpaid while hard-to-fill positions remain unfilled for longer than necessary.
Second, there are a number of misconceptions that prevent employers from considering former military personnel as viable candidates. For example, a 2016 survey showed that while 84 percent of U.S. employers regarded veterans as “heroes,” they did not believe they would be “strategic assets” to their organizations. Additionally, due to stereotypical beliefs about the military and a lack of first-hand experience with former service men and women, some employers don’t believe veterans could be a good cultural fit.
Third, veterans face practical challenges when they transition to the civilian workforce. Many aren’t used to current recruitment methods such as social media ads, talent communities, and applicant tracking systems. They get fewer job referrals than civilians because their networks consist of predominantly military professionals. Additionally, most veterans are at least mid-career professionals. Combined with the fact that hiring managers frequently underestimate veterans’ qualifications and consider them new entrants into the workforce, age in itself can be a disqualifying factor.
Connecting with veterans
As mentioned above, veterans have a wealth of skills, knowledge, and experience to offer organizations in a wide range of industries. For employers that recognize the potential of this group and want to leverage it to their advantage, it’s critical to create an efficient and effective strategy to attract and retain veterans.
To do this, an employer must first create a veteran friendly company culture. This involves eliminating stereotypes by informing employees how veterans’ unique strengths can help the organization advance. HR and hiring managers need to be educated about military culture and competencies so they can better assess veterans’ skills and create competitive remuneration packages. In addition, it’s advisable to offer career support, as well as clear career paths, to make the transition to the civilian workplace easier.
There are many ways employers can connect with former military personnel seeking jobs. What follows are just a handful of the most commonly-used methods.
Employers that handle recruitment in-house can place job postings on job boards and veterans websites, as well as at employment centers and educational institutions. There are also job fairs at vet centers, employment centers, community colleges, and other locations around the country.
There are numerous government initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels to hire veterans. For example, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a Special Employer Incentives (SEI) program that connects veterans with apprenticeship positions. The program reimburses employers for up to 50 percent of the hired veteran’s wages in order to cover the costs of education, equipment, and any loss of productivity. Veterans who successfully complete an apprenticeship are expected to be hired fulltime.
One of the most efficient ways to find veterans with the right skills is to work with recruitment and staffing agencies that specialize in placing veterans. This offers the distinct advantage that experienced recruiters know how to “translate” veterans’ qualifications for the civilian job market. Since they also have in-depth knowledge of their clients’ needs and company cultures, they’re well-positioned to match the right talent to the right jobs.
The business benefits of hiring veterans
It should be clear that veterans’ skills, experience, and work ethic can contribute significantly to organizations’ operational capabilities and by extension, to their growth and competitive positioning. Yet hiring veterans can also yield other business benefits such as tax credits. Organizations that hire unemployed veterans may qualify for a credit of up to $5,600 under The Returning Heroes Tax Credit incentive. Those that hire long-term unemployed veterans who suffer from service-related disabilities may qualify for a credit of up to $9,600 under The Wounded Warriors Tax Credit incentive.
Last but certainly not least, hiring veterans can boost a company’s reputation and brand. Unemployment among veterans is typically higher than that of the civilian workforce, so employing former service members is generally considered to be socially responsible. As a result, hiring veterans can generate more business, enhance the quality of job applicants, and increase an organization’s bottom line for the long term. Moreover, it also contributes to strengthening the local economy, which can have a far-reaching positive impact on the community as a whole.
Veterans are a growing group of highly qualified workers who bring a wealth of skill sets and experience to the U.S. workforce—a group that employers that want to remain competitive can’t afford to overlook. By learning how military experience is transferable to the non-institutional workplace and adapting their talent strategies, organizations can capitalize on the unique strengths of former military personnel to not only advance their own operational objectives, but also support veterans, their families, and the communities they live in.