Don't just commit to hiring veterans -- for the good of your organization, seek them out.
By Shelly Stewart
Today, there are roughly 21 million veterans in the United States. Based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they make up nearly 20 percent of the private sector workforce and about a third of the federal workforce. And yet, despite the prevalence of veterans in today's workforce, some HR teams still wonder where veterans can fit into their organization's battle plan. I would posit that a better way to frame that question is: Where couldn't veterans fit into the organization? After all, veterans as a group can be counted on to bring an array of desirable traits to any team, but beyond the core values instilled in them by their military service, they cannot be put into a single bucket. At P.A.V.E. (Paving Access for Veterans Employment) we've helped over 5,000 veterans take positive steps forward in their careers after the military, and here's one certainty: They are all unique and full of surprises.
There are certainly industries that can expect to see more qualified candidates coming out of the military. IT and cybersecurity teams, for example, will find a steady stream of potential candidates, many of whom still have active security clearances which can represent significant cost savings for organizations. For highly specialized positions, additional education or training might be needed but veterans have come to expect this and are usually willing to go the extra mile to set themselves up for success in their post-military careers. Additionally, today's military is much more focused on overcoming challenges with technology and intelligence versus brute force, which directly translates to the civilian workforce, especially in IT. For veterans with physical injuries, cybersecurity and IT positions represent an opportunity to leverage their abilities while circumventing their disabilities. They often see it as a new and exciting challenge, making them some of the most motivated individuals on the digital playing field.
Healthcare, operations, logistics, and yes, even human resources, are other areas where veterans tend to thrive. These are fields where traditional military skills and training directly translate in civilian positions. With the military looking for competitive advantages at every turn, they've embraced technology in these fields as well. It can be surprising to many HR teams how quickly veterans are able to integrate into these roles and embrace a company culture that tends to be vastly different from that of the military.
While those are all areas that can benefit from the skillset, drive, determination and commitment that veterans bring to the table, no industry can afford to overlook them as a talent pool. Most organizations are looking for candidates with a strong attention to detail, who are highly disciplined, good in high-pressure situations and are natural problem-solvers. The military spends millions of dollars each year imparting these traits to its uniformed men and women. At PAVE, we've helped place photographers, bakers, financiers -- the list goes on. Each year, our nation's military takes in a wildly diverse group of people from all walks of life. When they leave the military, they've been molded into one team and gained valuable qualities that bind them together, but they're still just as diverse of a group. Different things challenge them and appeal to their unique strengths. Finding those strengths is just as complex as with any other job candidates, but in addition to cracking that code, you can always count on the fact that they will not shy in the face of adversity and will give it their all to form a valuable member of the team.
It's also important to remember that those core values extend to veterans regardless of their age and time of service. In the current veterans-affairs environment, given the scale and length of recent military deployments, there is a heavy emphasis on post-9/11 service members. However, pre-9/11 veterans make up a significant portion of the population and should not be looked at differently. While you may see organizations that work with only post-9/11 veterans, especially in the employment sector, there is no legitimate reason to divide veterans into two groups, its simply how those veterans service organizations have chosen to operate.
The added benefit of hiring veterans, regardless of their age, is that there are organizations that exist to help connect them with opportunities after service. These organizations can be funded by the government or by non-profit groups but regardless of where their support comes from, they can shoulder some of the burden in finding qualified candidates for a wide array of industries and can be a valuable resource for HR teams. They can also help decipher the experience and skillsets individuals have accrued during service, translating that body of work so that HR teams less familiar with military service can capitalize on those skills and not overlook candidates that may be perfect for their organization.
In the end, you can't look at veterans as one group of potential candidates. You must look at each one individually. For organizations wondering if there are veterans out there that are a great fit for their company, there's no question that there are. By leveraging the organizations in place to help veterans transition to the civilian workforce -- which, in addition to PAVE include the Wounded Warrior Project, Disabled American Veterans and VetJobs -- they may even be easier to find compared to traditional channels.
Shelly D. Stewart is associate director of Paving Access for Veterans Employment, Paralyzed Veterans of America's vocational rehabilitation and employment services program.