I have had numerous discussions with hiring managers over the years on what their strategy is as it relates to hiring our veterans. Frequently these conversations will turn to the difficulty that the hiring managers have in understanding the unique perspective that hiring military brings. HR Managers often have limited insight into the programs already in place that assist veterans in transition as well as employers.
Veterans bring a broad variety of highly translatable skills from their military experiences: teamwork, critical thinking, work ethic, integrity, adaptability and leadership skills are just a few examples of character traits that all employers are looking for.
It occurred to me that many articles are written on hiring military from the perspective of the employer, but few articles are written from the view of the transitioning veteran. The following interview, conducted with an active duty US Army soldier, is intended to help understand that transition from a veteran’s perspective.
SSG Jeff Mason, 20 + years service, currently serving as 3rd Engineer Battalion Family Readiness Leader and Command Financial Specialist. In his 20 + years of service, SSG Mason has been on 4 deployments to Iraq totaling 58 months. He currently has 3 years and 4 months left until retirement.
Q: What are the resources available for veteran career transition out of military?
“The Soldier For Life program is currently our go-to transition program. It is a 12-24 month program that allows soldiers to prepare for and transition out of the service. It is a mandatory step by step process that takes a soldier through the transition into civilian life. They provide comprehensive workshops that build on a soldiers foundation to succeed outside of the military world .”
Q: What are the benefits and gaps of the Soldier for Life Program ?
“While the program is mandatory for transitioning soldiers, there is a solid gap in the preparation and transition for combat MOS soldiers. “
When asked further about this, SSG Mason indicated that the communication styles that are sometimes unique to the military, are not necessarily understood or accepted in the civilian workforce. This is often a topic of discussion with transitioning veterans, as they are aware that this can be a barrier to success if appropriate training and feedback is not provided to assist in acclimation to civilian life.
Q: Have you heard of experiences, good/bad with separation transition that could have been better?
“I have, I have had subordinate soldiers transition out of the military and not put their best efforts into the SFL-TAP program and have ended up traversing the US looking for work. Other soldiers I know of have fallen out of contact with the civilian populace and have become distraught with the way things have turned out. For a select few soldiers, I know they put maximum effort into the program and are now regional/team managers/ supervisors in their current jobs. Some have even taken that sense of purpose and drive and gone back to school in order to finish degrees and or start fresh.”
Q: What are your thoughts on the support services provided for transition?
“The SFL-TAP program is a good thing. But like any other program you only get out of it what you are willing to put in.”
Q: What is your personal perspective on transition?
“Obstacles in the way include medical benefits, pay and needed/ required skills to perform my job. As a soldier, I have done a great many things. Duties that have required skills that are not useful within almost any present civilian job. For me, most of my skills have been refined in places not many Americans are willing to go much less see.
Skills needed to succeed in my opinion are based on what the new norm is considered. Most of my skills would need to be replaced/ modified to represent the task and purpose at hand. Attention to detail and willingness to learn go a long way.”
Q: What is needed to make these transitions better and effective?
“Understanding, some of us have to take a bit longer to grasp onto practices that we haven’t dealt with before. Fear of the unknown is a major problem for veterans. In order to make transition a success, we need to become fully committed to ourselves and our prospective employers. We may not like it but we have to invest our due diligence and skills in new ways in order to compete with the younger generations.”
Q: Why should employers hire a veteran ?
“Veterans, have skill sets that are unique to the civilian workforce. They have an ingrained attention to detail and work ethic to do their best for whatever job they are in. They know that they are a part of something bigger and much more important than themselves.”
Q: What is your perspective of the civilian job market?
“My perspective on the civilian job market is limited as I haven’t looked for a new career in almost 20 years. From what I gather through contacts who have gotten out it’s bleak. Resources tell me that most of the jobs that they have applied for have turned them down due to fears of “damaged goods”. A few major corporations have taken a first-hand look at stopping this trend. GM, Tesla, Ford and Toyota all have a program to hire vets more frequently. This not only boosts the outlook on the vets perspective but also helps to show other vets that it is possible to get a well-paying position along with new skill sets for their future.”
Q: What can the civilian employers do to enhance the transition ?
“In order to enhance transition, employers need to ask pertinent detailed questions of their prospecitive veteran employees. Generalizing conceptual questions will not help the employer to determine viable skills that they are looking for in new employees. They need to know that some of the vets in transition deal with difficult issues and they need an understanding of what some of these issues will do to us. Not saying to walk on eggshells, but to understand and acknowledge an awareness of the issues.”
Q: Where do civilian employers have the best chance at finding, recruiting, hiring transitioning veterans?
“At each installation across the globe, there are programs that assist soldiers in transition. The absolute best thing that they can do is go to an SFL-TAP Job Fair. This month there will be over 300 perspective employers at our Job Fair here at FT Hood. These Job Fairs are held all over the US at Army, Navy and Air Force installations.”
WHAT EMPLOYERS CAN DO
The first step in hiring transitioning military is for the organization to make a commitment to hiring and retaining veterans. This commitment must be culturally ingrained within the organization and HR Managers and staff need to be trained in the intricacies of hiring veterans.
Companies, to be viewed as viable options for transitioning veterans, need to establish a presence in the veteran community that allows them to begin to build trust and name recognition. The military has an internal support system that prospective employers need to be aware of. Making contact with the Local One Stop Career Center, using VetSuccess.org, sponsored by the US Department of Veterans Affairs and attending/hosting a booth at a job fair targeting transitioning veterans are all excellent ways to kick off a veteran-focused hiring strategy.
Hiring veterans can provide companies with committed, disciplined and loyal employees and with a little understanding from both the employers and the transitioning veterans, a solid workforce for the future.
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