Military veterans can have a difficult time transitioning to civilian life. Whether it’s after a decades-long career or just a few years of service, many soldiers face challenges entering the civilian workforce. And many businesses could do more to help ease that transition.
Veterans have gone above and beyond to serve their country, and they deserve respect, not to mention the same opportunities that civilians get. But sadly, that’s not always the case. A 2013 study found that while 45% of employers agree that hiring a veteran would reflect well on their company (and 51% agreed that their ability to deal with high-pressure situations would be a benefit to their business), only 16% would make special efforts to recruit veterans.
A recent report from Canada’s Veterans Transition Advisory Council (VTAC) found that while the unemployment rate for veterans is no higher than it is among the general population, the quality of jobs – and salaries – is much lower. The study found that earnings for those leaving the military fell by 42%, and former soldiers are often frustrated that they can’t find work that makes use of their skills.
Overcoming the Stigma
For many veterans trying to get a civilian job, there can be stigmas to overcome. One of the most insidious stereotypes is that of the damaged veteran. “There’s stigma attached to PTSD and traumatic brain injury and other hidden disabilities that people may assume soldiers have when they’re leaving the military,” Nancy B. Adams, branch chief at the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command, told Fortune. “[Employers] may always have that at the back of their mind.”
Another concern many businesses have when it comes to hiring veterans is the belief that their skills aren’t transferable to the civilian workforce. “Unfortunately, employers are not recognizing how military occupation skill sets are transferable to civilian work, and Veterans themselves are struggling in articulating the transferability of their own skills,” the VTAC report reads. “[A recent] survey found that only 13% of HR departments have been trained to read resumes from military Veteran applicants. Similarly, in the US, ‘skill translation’ is the top reason cited as barrier to hiring Veterans.”
Civilians’ misunderstanding of the sorts of skills that veterans have accumulated during their military careers is, ironically, the opposite of the truth: a military career instills many positive habits and expertise that would make them more valuable to almost any employer.
The Advantage of Hiring Veterans
There can be many advantages to hiring a military veteran. Life in the military teaches respect for authority, structure and organization. They’re also more likely to be able to react quickly to new situations. “In the military, there’s a lot of things you have to adapt to and overcome,” Joe McFarland, a former US Marine who went on to become president of Home Depot’s Western division, told Fortune. “You’re put in a lot of different situations intentionally through different types of training that help you to think on your feet, that prepare you for the unexpected.”
Canada Company started in 2006, and its Military Employment Transition program (MET) aims to help connect military veterans with jobs in the civilian sphere through alliances with its “Military Friendly Employer Partners.” In the Success Stories section of its website, former members of the Canadian military tell their stories, including how they apply their training and experience in the Canadian Forces to their civilian jobs. Many are directors, VPs and CEOs at financial institutions and other big corporations.
One of the recommendations in the VTAC report is a greater emphasis on mentorship. As Canada Company’s MET program proves, those who have served their country can flourish in the private sector. A powerful next step would be programs to help those who have already successfully made that transition to the private sector then help others who are just making that transition themselves.
Many businesses stand to benefit from making an effort to hire veterans, however it’s an issue that’s just not on the radar for many companies. The VTAC report cites a “survey of HR departments [that] found that 73% of companies had no specific Veteran hiring policy and, of those companies who said that they don’t have a Veteran hiring policy, only 4% said they had plans to develop one.”
Companies have much to gain from such policies, whether it’s a specific recruiting program for men and women who’ve served, training HR representatives to better understand resumes that include military service, setting up mentorship programs, or simply being more open-minded to candidates with experience beyond the traditional business world.
Most successful entrepreneurs and business owners champion outside-the-box thinking – exactly what many veterans specialize in. Businesses that make an effort to be more receptive to candidates whose experience includes military service will likely be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Justin Anderson | The Edge Blog