Hiring, Retaining Veterans Pays Off For All

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September 29, 2015
By Nick Swaggert
From MyAJC.com

The unemployment rate for Georgia is slowly dropping, but at 6.1 percent, is still above the national average. That looks positively rosy when you realize the veteran unemployment rate in the same state is 7.6 percent. Neither number should be as high as it is when we know Atlanta businesses are growing and seeking highly skilled, qualified candidates to fill job vacancies.

But it illustrates my point: veterans face a greater challenge to prove their aptitude for a job because their work history includes military service. This needs to change if businesses intend to thrive in the 21st century.

When it comes to considering veterans for a role, there’s the motivation from certain federal mandates for companies that accept federal image of american flagcontracts to consider veterans with the right skills. That same mandate also drives home the importance of retaining veterans in the workforce, recognizing you can’t just hire veterans to meet the mandate, but they also need to be counted as part of your workforce year-over-year. Though veterans are extremely loyal, that loyalty only goes so far before an underutilized or under-supported employee leaves for a job that offers more-challenging, meaningful opportunities.

The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Assistance Act requires organizations with government contracts (i.e., most companies) to identify if they have a need to hire more veterans, then create an action plan to get there. If you’re not sure about whether your company is affected by this mandate, check out www.usaspending.gov to see how much your company earns in government contracts. You might be surprised.

It’s been my experience that most companies only give lip service to the importance of hiring and retaining veterans. And do little in practice. This mandate puts the onus back on the private sector, with a measurable goal for hiring and retaining veterans in your workforce. And if you don’t, there might be consequences.

A veteran’s military skills are easily translatable to match a civilian job description, but the cultural shift from a hierarchical system to a collaborative and widely-disbursed leadership structure can be disorienting. Companies can help veterans shift from the military mindset and adapt to corporate culture more quickly and easily.

Some considerations:

  • Timing is everything: It is quickly drilled into military recruits to show up 15 minutes early for everything and that being on time is actually running late.
  • Collaborating instead of taking orders: “Getting the job done” in the military means following orders and the use of the word ‘I’ is nonexistent.
  • Purpose and meaning: While serving in the military, it’s the mission that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning. Connecting to that same feeling in a civilian job helps keep veterans engaged and loyal.
  • Support a veteran culture at work: Veterans often need to know their company understands them; developing a workplace culture where veterans are understood is key.
  • Mentorship program: A formalized mentorship program marketed to your veteran employees is incredibly successful in decreasing turnover.
  • Growth opportunities: This applies to any employee, but make sure veterans have opportunities to grow from day one.

A “one size fits all” solution may not exist, but adapting these considerations to a company’s needs will make a noticeable difference for veterans who make the transition to their civilian careers.

Understanding how to retain veterans in a workplace requires very little effort and the approach is packed full of common sense. Learning the most effective strategies may also boost your retention efforts across your entire organization. For any company still lamenting the lack of qualified candidates for their jobs, I say: Maybe you’re not really looking.

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