How to Support Veterans in the Workplace
The Demand For Veterans in the WorkplaceEvidenced by their low unemployment rate of 2.5 percent, there is a high demand for veterans in the workplace. While their skills and experiences are valued, employers often struggle to retain veterans at work. It’s reported that over 50 percent of veterans leave their first post-military service job within the first year. To better understand how to support veterans in the workplace we spoke with Delivery Lead David Ward. David has over 5 years of staffing experience and is a retired member of the U.S. Air Force — serving over 23 years. During his time, he has frequently hired veterans and understands what they commonly look for in the workplace.
What Are the Skills Veterans Bring to the Workplace?A reason why veterans are in high demand are the soft skills they bring to the job. Ward likes to focus on the skills that may not appear on the resume but are common among veterans in the workplace.
Skills veterans bring to the workplace:
- Strong Work Ethic
What Are the Challenges Faced By Veterans Transitioning From Military to Civilian Life?
Making the military to civilian transition isn’t always easy for veterans. The culture shift and new environment can lead to veterans feeling like a fish out of water.
“It's kind of how the business environment has changed from the 1970s and 80s when workers were less vocal in asking questions about their role and the company. Now everything is open to question and that might be hard for a veteran to adjust to since they are used to taking orders and focusing on getting the job done,” says Ward.
Ward also points out that a lack of structure can lead to veterans feeling out of place when transitioning from military to civilian life. Many veterans may be used to regimented schedules and processes. The modern workplace allows for more flexibility than many veterans may be used to, and this can create a feeling of uncertainty during the military transition to civilian life.
Ward highlights that some veterans may have trouble transitioning to civilian work given their unique experiences. They may have conditions that require ongoing care but they may be hesitant to express it publicly.
“Not every veteran is going to be willing to talk about something that is troubling them. They don’t want to say anything that may draw attention or single them out,” says Ward.
How to Help Veterans Transition In Your Company
Unfortunately, Ward hasn’t noticed any companies that have perfected the process of transitioning veterans into the workplace.
“Most companies talk a good game on the front end, but don’t really back it up over time,” says Ward.
Ward sees room for improvement when it comes to helping veterans transition from military to cilivian life. He mentions that employers who wish to help veterans with the military transition to civilian life should partner with government-run programs like the Transition Assistance Program (Taps) and SkillBridge. These services connect veterans to networking and training opportunities to ease their transition.
“I’ve seen success in bringing in outside people to help with the transition assistance. Whether to help with resume writing or to let veterans know what businesses are hiring,” says Ward.
How Veterans’ Employee Resource Groups Help Improve Engagement and Comradery
Employers can also look to establish veteran employee resource groups (ERGs) to create a sense of community in the workplace for the veterans they employ. ERGs are voluntary employee-led workgroups that serve as a resource for their members and the entire organization. These groups can potentially help develop programs that can improve the workplace.
“The Aerotek Veterans, First Responders and Spouses ERG is helping veterans find community and transition with the “Buddy Program”. Through this program, we’ll connect veterans with their peers to help with transition, career path guidance, and everyday challenges of adjusting to the civilian world,” says Ward.
Vice President of Strategic Sales Bill Ruff is the executive sponsor for this ERG at Aerotek. Ruff has numerous connections to the military through his family and is dedicated to closing the service-to-civilian gap at Aerotek.
“We started small with our ERG and we are methodically building it to bring Aerotek into the conversation on long-term Veteran & First Responder hiring & retention, while serving the unique needs of the spouses. We have identified and assembled a board of former military, former first responders and spouses that have a desire to raise awareness of the group’s issues, provide direction and support to our employees. These professionals volunteer and dedicate their time to the successful development of the ERG,” says Ruff.
Why Do Companies Struggle to Retain Veterans?
Along with an ongoing labor shortage there are other reasons why employers lose their veteran workers to competition. Ward believes those in leadership roles often fail to recognize the potential skills a veteran has. He states that many veterans want to be challenged. If they aren’t learning new skills and progressing their career, they may get bored or feel out of place.
One of the most overlooked skills a veteran may possess is their leadership experience.
“Leadership experience often goes overlooked because when you have a military member that is completing their service, they are already at a supervisory level. They’ve likely had a chance to manage a team and too often that leadership experience goes unused,” says Ward.
How to Empower Veterans in the Workplace
Given their tendency to not ask questions or divert from protocol, veterans may need to be introduced to opportunities where they can demonstrate their leadership skills. It doesn’t have to be a big project but allowing them the opportunity to express how they would change a process could make them feel more engaged.
Bill Ruff explains how ERGs can help empower veterans to find community and be more engaged in the workplace.
“When transitioning to the civilian workforce, service member interactions with coworkers sometimes feel difficult and stressed. This can make the service member feel out of place, like they do not belong. Service members often miss the camaraderie and closeness of the military-like culture. During their service, there is a shared purpose, focus on a mission, and bond that often remains between them for a lifetime. Our ERG has the goal to foster careers and help members assimilate into the Aerotek culture, while building relationships to support long term efforts to attract talent and support members.”
Ward offers some final advice for companies struggling to retain veterans:
“My biggest suggestion would be to just listen. Listen to the veteran to find out what they need and create opportunities to get their feedback.”