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Connecting Employers to Veterans–6 Areas of Disconnect

We at Easterseals Veteran Staffing Network (VSN) speak regularly with employers who have difficulty hiring veterans and military spouses. They claim an inability to find qualified candidates, even though they are interviewing. The desire is there, they value diversity in their workforce, and yet the number of veteran hires doesn’t match the hiring goals.

Why are these employers unable to tap into this valuable workforce?

The disconnect stems from the cultural differences of military service and civilian employment. We have identified six problems areas employers can examine and actions to bridge the gap:

Disconnect #1: How America’s Employers Hire vs. the Military method

Employers in America are eager to identify candidates who can "hit the ground running" to maximize performance on the job immediately. Few employers seek candidates who need training before they are fully functional in their job. The reason… new hires are risky, and turnover is expensive, so employers look for low-risk hires. Theoretically, if the individual already has the necessary training and possesses the related work experience, the likelihood of a successful hire is greater.

The Department of Defense hires very differently.

The military identifies candidates who are capable of doing the job; those who possess the intangibles to make an individual successful. Once screened they are then trained for the job. No one enters military service "qualified" to do the job immediately; all are trained for every component of their work roles.

The solution to bridge this gap between employers and veteran candidates is training, on both sides. The government provides veterans and spouses training (the Transition Assistance Program or TAP) to prepare for transition into the civilian workforce.

Employers have opportunities to train their talent acquisition team and hiring managers about the profiles of veteran candidates. Organizations like the Veteran Staffing Network and other nonprofits, Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), transition offices at local military bases, state veteran affairs offices and American Job Centers can provide great insight to the intangible skill sets of veterans. Many can provide some level of training to your staff to also help them understand military resumes, occupational codes and the transferrable skills of military service and relate them to your business needs.

Disconnect #2: Translating Military Work Experience - Part 1 - Candidate Identification

Each branch of the military has its own unique language full of codes and acronyms. This unique language is ingrained in each person who wears the uniform. A common challenge faced by transitioning service members is learning how to communicate their experience in "civilian" terms.

On the other side of the coin, civilian employers who have not been exposed to the military lifestyle do not understand these codes, acronyms and "military speak." Recruiters and hiring managers expect candidates to be able to communicate with the language related to the work to be performed. Interpreting this unique military language requires extra effort on the part of the employer. All too often candidates with civilian work experience are easier to identify via resume search and review.

Disconnect #3: Translating Military Work Experience - Part 2 - The Interview

Perhaps one of the most tragic and crucial disconnects for service members transitioning into civilian employment occurs during the interview process. Recruiters and hiring managers seek candidates who can communicate their capacity for accomplishment in clear terms; wanting to hear examples on how past experience can be parlayed into successful job performance in the new position. Candidates must be able to clearly demonstrate how they can be an asset to a potential employer. They must be able to talk about their individual accomplishments and successes.

Here the service member is at a significant disadvantage versus his or her civilian counterparts. There are no "individual" accomplishments in the military. The military is a machine that operates on the concept of "team", where nothing works as a single person's accomplishment but a fully functioning unit working with a cohesive objective.

Have you ever thanked a service member for his or her service? Have you ever noticed that he or she quietly says "thank you" as they acknowledge your appreciation for service, perhaps even bowing his or her head in humility?

This humility, the unintentional lack of awareness of individual accomplishments during military service cripples effective communication to recruiters and hiring managers when engaging the civilian employment market.

Disconnect #4: Understanding Military Training

Another area of disconnect for civilian employers is comprehending the vast quantity and quality of training an individual receives during military service. The titles of courses and names of schools are foreign to these employers. They have no clue that, whether enlisted or officer, service members are in charge of other personnel as early as six months into their service. Most civilian employers do not understand the difference between enlisted (operations and strategy) and officer (strategy and executive management) roles.

These men and women are responsible for hundreds of thousands, if not millions or billions, of dollars of equipment. The logistical responsibilities of moving people and materials from one place to another are constant. The care and well-being of individuals, leadership and professional growth of these men and women, managing multiple projects simultaneously, often with limited resources… The list goes on and on and is all too often misunderstood by recruiters and hiring managers.

Disconnect #5: Limited Exposure

There was a time in America, post-World War II, where one in four people had direct exposure to the military. Today is much different.

The US military and veteran population stands just under 7% according to the US census report published in June of 2020. Veterans represent 5.6% of the total civilian labor force (158,661,000 civilians in the total labor force, and of these, 8,918,000 were veteran) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020.

Disconnect #6: PTSD and Other Myths

Employers may have concerns veterans may suffer from PTSD or other mental disorders, possibly creating issues for the rest of their workforce. While a veteran may have a higher likelihood to experience PTSD due to military service, according to the National Center for PTSD “About 15 million adults have PTSD during a given year.”

Although there are a number of individuals transitioning from military service who do share symptoms related to PTSD, the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs work diligently to provide counseling services and needed medications to help these men and women overcome this disorder. In fact, there is a movement to eliminate the word "disorder" altogether as it is a condition that can be eliminated through proper therapy and medications.

Eliminating a candidate from consideration based on fear and ignorance is as equally reprehensible as discriminating against a candidate for race, gender, religion, and many other social considerations. America is better than that.

The Solution: Education

Education shines a flashlight on the darkness of ignorance. We have seen amazing transformations in American society related to prejudice. The Civil Rights Movement, gender rights, acceptance of religious and sexual preferences, incorporating people with disability... Education has played a vital role in raising the awareness of the American conscience. And the same holds true for solving the problem of our heroes getting meaningful career opportunities after military service.

The federal, state and local governments, workforce agencies and veterans service organizations are working diligently, investing hundreds of millions of dollars to educate our service members. Programs preparing these men and women for transition, to educate about proper job search techniques, understanding past accomplishments and being able to relate them to potential employers, building individual awareness and educating them about the right way to communicate to employers.

An extraordinary effort for sure, but it is not enough. Employers in the United States must share some of the load and educate themselves on why hiring a service member is a benefit to the organization.

A multitude of programs, trainings and educations are available to employers. Hiring authorities and executive leadership must seek out and incorporate these learnings to ensure they are doing all they can to bring aboard highly efficient workers.

Hiring these men and women makes good business sense.

And one final thought…

Where it not for the sacrifices these men and women have made, you would not enjoy the professional and personal freedoms that are taken for granted daily. I challenge you, whether a recruiter, hiring manager or executive leader to take the responsibility to educate yourself and your staff about the best ways to engage, attract, interview, on board and retain these men and women. Your organization will be better for it.


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